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2023 Books

A list and some review of some of the books I read in 2023…

Hell : A Novel Kindle Edition, Patrick Huey

A debut novel from Patrick Huey, which I enjoyed a lot. A dark, complex and entertaining read.

John Allen is a troubled financial executive, suffering from PTSD after three tours in Iraq as a marine. He upends his life, with the story kicking off as he embarks on a round-the-world trip. The Hell theme is maintained with epigraphs from Dante’s Inferno, the narrative arc, and the mysterious travel agent (Virgil, like Dante’s guide).

Lest that sound too dark, the story provides an escapist feel, with jet-setting, sun, surf, and fine wining-and-dining, and is full of colorful characters: a mysterious blond, a beautiful Italian widow, a best frenemy back in the finance world, and a family that is ever present in their absence. I particularly liked the frequent literary references throughout the book: Shakespeare’s Hamlet (“I am sick at heart.”), a Hemingway-influenced trip to a bullfight, and he even squeezes in a John Maynard Keynes quote.

Huey doesn’t over-rely on quotes or references to make the story work though. His writing more than holds its own, and captivates throughout:
“The individual reflections began to change. Slowly, like a pebble dropped in a still pond they rippled and resolved into snapshots from his life.”

Recommended.

 

The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

Rating: 9/10

If there is such a thing as a comfort read, this is mine. Perhaps my third time reading it and, surprise surprise, it is still a great book.

This time around, I had read some reviews suggesting the story is an allegorical commentary on Hemingway’s writing career. For example, the 84 days that Santiago hasn’t got a fish similar to the long years Hemingway went between his early literary success and this, his final (and most successful) book published while he was still alive; The sharks are the critics, etc. An interesting perspective.

But I also like Hemingway’s own words on it:

No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in. I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough, they would mean many things.

– Ernest Hemingway

 

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, Dave Grohl

Rating: 6/10

An entertaining read.

 

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It, Chris Voss

My first audiobook of 2023. Narrated by Michael Kramer. I can’t say I like the “voice” of this book, whether that was the narrator or the author, but it did contain some useful insights.

 

Exhalation: Stories, Ted Chiang

I liked this collection of short stories so much I bought it as a gift for friends. I definitely intend to re-read. Recommend.

 

Like a Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner

4/10

I just didn’t like this book, or perhaps it was Wenner’s writing style and voice that bugged me, but I can’t recommend it. I finished it, which says something I guess, but it felt like it had so much potential and yet was so unsatisfying. Wenner is infatuated with Mick Jagger, documenting even the smallest interactions and disagreements, and was fawning over Springsteen and Bono, but while every page is full of name dropping, there are just not that many genuinely interesting stories. I liked the Washington Post’s take on it: 

Wenner might just as accurately have called his doorstop of a book “I Am Very Rich, and All My Friends Are Extremely Famous”… For all the things Wenner saw, it seems he didn’t witness much.

 

Technical Books

Team Topologies, Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais

Some books are useful not necessarily because they give you the answers, but because they give you the words, ideas and frameworks to come up with the answers to your own unique problems. Team Topologies felt like that book for me, and I suspect would be for most engineering leaders.

This book is to teams and org design what Design Patterns (“Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software”) is to software. Both contain incredibly useful information that is good to know, but both are an incredibly dry read.

 

 

Also, with my daughter, we read:

  • The Tiny Mansion, Keir Graff
  • Holes, Louis Sachar 

And somewhere in 2023, we managed to finish the Harry Potter series too…

 

 

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