Qt3 2019 Reading Challenge


@ineffablebob – The Fifth Risk was my other main option for P&R this month, so I switched over and joined you in reading it.

So, every month when picking out choices to queue up for each prompt, my starting point is my “want to read” shelf on Goodreads. This time, the prompts are so wide-ranging that it seemed like half my list would work for one of them. However, true to stereotypes, history books do include a high preponderance of 900-page monster tomes, and I doubt my ability to get through four of those in a month. So I picked both a weighty book and a more digestible short backup novel for each prompt. I’ll start with the heavy stuff and see how long I can last before switching over to stay on track.


Progress: 11/52

Equal parts amusing and depressing. Well written; clearly argues for the value of the work done by the generally anonymous federal bureaucracy, as well as the dangers of putting them in the hands of ignorant, apathetic, or actively hostile overseers. 4/5


Progress: 12/52

I had very much the same reaction as @Thraeg to this one. To quote my own review:


Progress: 12/52

A book about the love life of a movie star is well outside my normal wheelhouse and seemed like it could easily descend into insubstantial Hollywood glamor wish fulfillment. But beyond that surface level, this is full of well-realized, relatable characters, and has some substance on topics of fame, love, and discrimination. Other than a few predictable twists and a somewhat weaker framing story, there’s not much I can take issue with. 4/5


Found my games book:

Heard a couple interviews with Harris about this book and it seems pretty interesting. Don’t have an Oculus (or any VR hardware) myself but I’ve certainly heard plenty about it.


Progress: 13/52

For someone who is already interested in tech startup culture, the growth of virtual reality as a technology available to consumers, and how the business of big tech works…The History of the Future is a good read. If you don’t share one or more of those interests, it’s probably not for you, because it’s really long and the detail will probably bog you down.

I only rated it middling for several reasons. I felt the story could have been told in about half the pages - there’s a lot of interesting stories along the way, but were they all really necessary? I felt like the book tells only one side of the story in the later portion, when Palmer Luckey was being let go from Oculus. That may not be the author’s fault…he says early on that not everyone was accessible to him…but it still felt incomplete to me. And, as I said above, you need a pretty specific set of interests to stay engaged through all 500 pages. I have those interests, it worked for me, but it may not for others.


I’m going to try a couple of Deepak Chopra’s books for the first two.

Not sure about the other two yet, will figure those out later.


I am completely out of step with the challenge at this point, but I did in fact finish a book. Children of Time which of course has its own thread. I enjoyed the thematic parallels between the fall of humanity and the rise of the spiders. I thought the use of naming individual spiders across generations was a very clever way of trying to keep them relatable across species and time challenges, but it didn’t quite fully work for me. And although I somewhat flagged in the middle I really enjoyed the ending. I’m not sure I want a sequel but apparently we’re getting one anyway.


Progress: 13/52 – On track at the 25% mark of the year!

With 11 days left in the month, I decided I had time to tackle something more substantive than the graphic novel I was originally considering, so went with:

A story about an orphan girl and her foster family in small-town Germany from 1939-43. Full of powerful moments and striking poetic imagery, and narrated by Death. This is a decision that could have easily backfired, but I thought it worked wonderfully well, as it gave enough of a different perspective on the human lives to feel fresh, and Death’s complicated relationship with humanity (alternately bemused, sardonic, and meditative) really elevates the story. 4.5/5


And with March almost done, here are the prompts for May. This time, the theme is Elements.

May 2019 Prompts:

  • 5A - Main: Something on the periodic table
  • 5B - Bonus: Air
  • 5C - Bonus: Earth
  • 5D - Bonus: Fire
  • 5E - Bonus: Water

Woo, I’ve heard good things about The Book Thief and @Thraeg’s reaction solidifies it for me. Got to find a spot for that one in the near future!


It came down to the wire, but I finished my March book just now. I read Acceptance, the third book in the Southern Reach trilogy. And I liked it, even though it’s a tricky read. Not as tough as Gravity’s Rainbow but while it reveals some mysteries it holds onto quite a few. But I liked the whole thing. And now I can see the movie version of Annihilation.

No idea yet what I’ll read for April. Need to give that some thought.


Hmm, I should take another look at Acceptance. I stopped after the second book, partly I think because I needed a break from slowly uncovering the mystery of unknowable vague horrors, and partly because it was such a difference in other ways from the first book. (I still liked it enough to finish though!) Is the third yet another departure, or actually attempting something resembling closure?


I know the feeling, it’s taken me several months to work my way through all the books. I’ll keep this short and spoiler free: Acceptance continues the story from the first two books, though probably not in the way a normal trilogy does. It gives you more insight into the prior director of Southern Reach, and adds another POV character. Like I mentioned, it does resolve some questions but not all. Overall I liked the book as the way it wrapped things up, but I could see folks feeling unfulfilled by the whole thing.


For the second part of March, I read The Gift of Fear, by Gavin DeBecker… which I kind of think lives either in the “Politics & Religion” or the “Everything Else” category.

I picked it up because several people over several years have recommended it to me, but what put me over the top was the fact that de Becker was the guy that Bezos hired to get to the bottom of the threats he was receiving related to his texts being hacked… and the National Enquirer extortion. Reading an excerpt or two from his book made me want to read it.

It’s pretty good in that the anecdotes and historical examples presented are amusing and informative. His overall advice is given in a way that makes sense and is fun to read.

But for me, it has much of what a lot of self-help/self-improvement books suffer from: repetition of the core message over and over and over again in a way that makes you suspect the author is just sandbagging to get the book to look longer, and a general lack of drama.

And to be honest, as a long-married, white male who is taller and more muscular-looking than most, an awful lot of the book simply was only of academic interest to me. The parts about identifying a controlling or abusive partner were fascinating… but not likely to be applicable to my life. Likewise the part about not putting myself in a position where I could be preyed upon by rapists; there is lots of GREAT advice in there… that I will only use from the side of trying not to alarm strangers if I meet them in a dark parking garage.

At the end of each chapter I was glad I had read it… but I didn’t have a great deal of desire to read the next one. With the audiobook, I kept finding excuses to listen to music or the news rather than hacking further into the book.


Progress: 14/52

This was fascinating. I had a general awareness that my knowledge of native cultures was certainly skewed by schools and popular culture, but this filled in a ton of gaps in explaining what has been learned about these societies, their achievements, and what happened to them, from various perspectives. I learned a ton, and it’s highly readable as well – I blew threw the 500-odd pages in a few days, notwithstanding my above concerns about finishing four dense history tomes in a month. I did have a bit of a niggling feeling that there’s some cherry-picking and extrapolation from very limited evidence to support the thesis in a few sections, but am willing to forgive a bit of overcorrection to help counteract the entrenched stereotypes. 4.5/5


I really enjoyed 1491 and learned a LOT. I do wish it had more information of North American civilizations, but I understand why it doesn’t.


Yeah, I had that thought too, but he does discuss the reasoning behind it – how the North American civilizations were smaller in population, and didn’t have a writing system, so there’s less to go on.


Progress: 15/52

So this is a little weird. Chopra has some really strange ideas about mind-over-body, and believes in pseudo-science that I find laughable. But he wrote these three books about historical religious giants that I found intriguing. So I picked up the books and approached them as a I would an alternate history novel: stories to enjoy, possibly some insight into the reality they reflect, but not to be taken as serious commentary. And with that mindset, I enjoyed all three. I’d say the Buddha book was the best, though that’s probably because I simply enjoyed the setting of ancient India more than the others.


Progress: 16/52

I did not like The Book Thief.

Given that @Thraeg, pretty much the entire literary community, and just about everyone else I know had the opposite reaction, this is clearly my problem. I found it an uncomfortable read, and to be honest, boring. Nothing happens through the vast majority of the book, Death isn’t an interesting narrator, and I already know that WWII Germany was a pretty awful place. Sometimes art…whether book, music, movie, whatever…simply is not for you.