mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

June Reading Marathon!

While in college, the time I spent reading for pleasure tapered off. Unfortunately, it never really picked back up. This made me sad given there are such great books, both old and new, out there. I reddit a little (a lot) and the redditors over at r/books and r/scifi are always recommending great books. So in June I made a concerted effort to spend more time reading. While the previous books I’ve read over the past year were all science fiction, I tried to vary up the genres of books this time. Now that June has flown by, here are the books I read and my thoughts on them.

  1. The Forever War (1974) by Joe Haldeman - This novel starts off as your typical science fiction describing an interstellar war between humanity and an alien species. But rather than get bogged down in the technology and battles between the two sides, this novel dives into the lives of soldiers after their fighting is done. The futuristic setting allows a broadening of this exploration via time dilation, which greatly lengthens the time soldiers spend in combat relative to those who do not fight in the war. This is due to the soldiers often traveling near the speed of light, which “slows down their time.” Our story follows a soldier who spends two years fighting, but returns to an Earth where decades have passed. The novel originally served as a metaphor for the Vietnam War, but seems very relevant to the issues facing all of our veterans.

  2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Phillip K. Dick - A seminal science fiction novel that explores a world in the near future where the line between man and machine has become extremely blurred. The concepts and themes explored extend beyond man vs. machine in such a well-woven manner that it doesn’t feel like the author is trying to force some higher message down your throat. The plot is relatively straightforward, and given the brevity of the work (~200 pages), the author does not attempt to fit a grandiose plot into too short a text – which is refreshing.

  3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) by Mark Haddon - It’s been so long since I’ve read such a great, light-hearted book! Haddon’s mystery novel centers around Christopher, a young boy who describes himself as having some “behavioral difficulties,” and his journey to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog. Although many people liken Christopher’s behavior to Asperger’s or autism, Haddon claims the book is “about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way.” Haddon described Christopher’s point of view so well that as I read the novel, I found myself frustrated with how he was responding to situations. Those moments of frustration became important moments of reflection on how we should respect the fact that everyone does not think and act like we do.

  4. Heart of Darkness (1899) by Joseph Conrad - The list of classic movies I haven’t seen is as shameful as the list of classic books I haven’t read. Reading this short novel got one book off that list, but I honestly did not enjoy it much. Conrad’s tale explores themes of corruption, colonialism, and racism in the larger context of imperialism. It felt like something your high school English teacher would assign to you because its many themes are very relevant to world history, and while I’ve really enjoyed plenty of assigned reading, the themes here are so blatant that the plot seems to take a backseat to it all.

  5. Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) by Umberto Eco - Someone on the r/books subreddit described this book as “a thinking man’s Dan Brown. [A] group of guys make up a conspiracy on a whim, then can’t convince the conspiracy theorists it’s not real.” This book describes what Dan Brown must feel like as he strings together some harebrained conspiracy, loosely grounded in some historical texts, for his latest best-selling novel. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a sucker for the occasional conspiracy theory book, but Eco’s work shows how dangerous it can be to breathe life into a lie, which Brown’s novels invariably do for some people! This was the longest read in June and took a while to get through, but I still recommend it.

July is upon us and I already have a list of books I want to read next. As a Computer Science major and now Software Engineer, I can get by without 100% proper grammar and syntax. But I’ve started actively Yelping (and blogging here), and want my writing to be totally legit and proper. So I’m going to read The Elements of Style and Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

After that I want to revisit two of my favorite books from my childhood: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Next on the list is a bit of professional development with Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty, which I hope will give me some insight into how the great designers I work with at Smule think! Last is a book written in Portuguese; I’m leaning towards Jose Saramago’s Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira (Essay on Blindness) – a novel on the social effects of an epidemic that turns everyone in a city blind.