2017: My Year in Reading

All of the data that follows was collected by me throughout the year using a combination of Google Sheets and Google Calendar. All seasonal and monthly calculations are based on the date each title was begun. Average days to read titles are based on the number of days actually spent reading each title, and not necessarily the full span from begun date to completed date.

A complete list of all the books I read in 2017 is at the bottom of this post


First things first: I’m a hypocrite.

In 2016, I wrote a post about the importance of reading more widely in genres I don’t normally read. I even posted lists of titles and swore to spend some amount of time in 2017 reading them.

I didn’t. I didn’t read any of them.

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Book Review: The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt
The Long Sunset
by Jack McDevitt
Saga Press, 2018

The Academy has been shuttered and Priscilla Hutchins (Hutch) is adjusting to life on Earth. Humanity has become fearful of continued space exploration—there’s a growing paranoia that someday such expeditions will bring back something too dangerous. The President herself is campaigning for reelection on a platform of ending the space program.

When an astronomer discovers a signal from deep space which clearly indicates the presence of an intelligent, technologically sophisticated alien civilization, he recruits a team to seek out these aliens and Hutch is put in command. But people don’t want them to go and the team must race to take off before the government can shut them down.

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Inherent Bias in Classification Systems

December 10th is Dewey Decimal System Day. Maybe it’s only librarians who care much about it but to us it’s a big deal.

The entire history of our profession has been a quest to organize information. Sometimes organizational schemas were focused on preserving resources, on merely keeping a list of a collection’s holding, and sometimes systems were intended to restrict access. Indeed, for most of our history, knowledge institutions were exclusive and exclusionary.

But beginning with the birth of public libraries in the 1800s, we conceived the idea that knowledge should be accessible for the betterment of all people. The challenge was—and continues to be—to find ways to accomplish this goal through practical application in real-world situations, in day-to-day activities.

Melvil Dewey’s system was a massive paradigm shift. It seems like such an esoteric thing to celebrate but realize this: before Dewey’s organizational scheme, there existed no universal method for organizing collections of materials, and too many systems were obscure and overly complicated, to the point where people were often discouraged from attempting to access them.

Dewey created a system that anyone could understand and use. For the first time, people could walk into a library and find what they wanted on the shelf, or explore the catalog, without the mediation of a specialist. In a real sense, the Dewey system effectively transferred our collections of knowledge out of the hands of specialists and into the hands of the general populace. *

Still, for all my appreciation and admiration of Dewey’s achievement, when a coworker asked if I wanted to participate in Dewey Day activities at my library, my response was this:

“I have no interest in celebrating the Dewey system. It’s an archaic monument to Western superiority and colonial oppression which obscures the diversity of human cultures and silences diverse voices.”

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Classic SF & Welcoming New Readers

On November 28, 2017, the author Seanan McGuire posted an excellent tweet thread about classic SF and entry points for readers new to the genre. She addresses crucial issues of diversity and inclusion. This perspective is important. Please take the time to click through and read it.

Conclusion: classic SF will always be important but it’s not a good way to bring in new readers.

Introducing new readers to science fiction can be tricky. It’s a challenging genre to learn and get used to. I decided years ago (long before I became a librarian or knew anything about readers advisory) that it doesn’t work to get people started in the genre with classic Asimov, Clarke, et al.

I’m ashamed to admit my reasoning at the time had nothing to do with the narrow Western cultural male whiteness of the work. It was because of the writing and the science.

Consider Isaac Asimov.

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Poetry and Nonsense

I was talking to my parents recently about some of the poetry I’ve written in the past few years. I mentioned how I’d developed a fascination with ways to integrate technology into poetic experimentation. I explained how much I enjoy Google search poems. I told them how I created a method of generating something akin to found poetry, using my smartphone’s auto-suggestion typing feature.

My mom said she’d like to read my tech-based poems, so I sent her links to my first auto-suggestion poem and a Google search poem I built (both written for National Poetry Writing Month in 2016).

My mom responded to these poems with this: “Is playing with words poetry in and of itself?”

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Book Review: The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke

The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mahnke
The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures
by Aaron Mahnke
Del Ray, 2017

Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast is one of the more fascinating and informative podcasts available. He explores the world of lore: folktales and legends—usually creepy or macabre—and shares the interesting things he finds. He’s an accomplished and entertaining storyteller.

Podcasts are subject to time constraints: there’s only so much you can fit into each episode. While the stories he shares with his listeners are clearly well researched, he doesn’t go into much depth with them. And that’s OK for a podcast—the point of these stories is to share them and entertain his audience. While he occasionally asks the Big Questions (“Why are we drawn to myths and legends like these? What purpose do they serve?” etc.) he never offers much more than cursory, broad strokes answers. Again, that’s fine for a podcast—he needs to focus each episode on telling the cool stories he finds.

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How Can Libraries Compete with Amazon?

I’m so bored by this question. Let’s talk instead about some things Amazon can’t do:

  • Amazon can’t be part of a community.
  • Amazon can’t build meaningful, multifaceted relationships with people at a local level.
  • Amazon can’t provide communal space.
  • Amazon can’t provide boots-on-ground, in-the-trenches, front-line community services.
  • Amazon can’t provide anything beyond purely commercial transactions.
  • Amazon can’t be assumed to care about the common good.
  • Amazon can’t build trust with people.

Libraries do all these things. Libraries do so much more than these things. All without ever advertising to you, without leveraging your needs for commercial gain.

Amazon values monetization. Libraries value people.

Can libraries compete with Amazon? This isn’t a legitimate question. If you think Amazon is competition for libraries, then you fundamentally don’t understand what libraries do.

The truth is this:

Amazon can’t compete with us.