Strong Book Recommendations

Books I've read that I treasured; something like a 8/10 or above.

see all the books I've read.

Normal People

by Sally Rooney

genre: Romance published: 2018 time read: September 2022

In the best way possible, this book was a painful read. I often love love - and Sally Rooney does a stellar job portraying love (and what’s not quite it) in a perfect story about imperfect people. Some parts of the book definitely hit too close to home. This book is such an easy read - which makes it a superb recommendation - and will likely kick off a romance binge phase!

Severance

by Ling Ma

genre: Satire published: 2018 time read: August 27 2022

Embarassingly, I thought this was related to the Apple TV show. The embarassment ends there - Ling Ma creates a page turner out of corporate monotony, office politics, and offshore manufacturing. The zombie experience alternates between the literal and metaphorical almost seamlessly. It was too easy to read the entire book in a day. Stellar recommendation.

Recursion

by Blake Crouch

genre: Science Fiction published: 2019 time read: August 2022

Recursion blends the heart-pounding nature of a straight thriller with some of the philosophical questions that classic science fiction poses: what, really, is a memory? Crouch’s protagonists are convincingly human; like great sci-fi, the core is about people, not technology. This is exactly where I want to see the sci-fi thriller genre in the future! As an aside, it’s funny reading sci-fi that also incorporates recent current affairs - like namedropping Glenn Greenwald (staying with the Guardian?).

The Martian

by Andy Weir

genre: Science Fiction published: 2011 time read: August 2022

This was one of the easiest books to read: Mark Watney’s inner dialogue rolls off of each page effortlessly. The science satisfies the part of me that wanted to become an astronaut, and the character almost feels more lively than the movie. I’m flabbergasted that this is Weir’s first novel, and that he’s a software engineer by training! Certainly a book I’d recommend to people who find it hard to get back into reading!

Piranesi

by Susanna Clarke

genre: Fantasy published: 2020 time read: July 29th 2022

Wow, just wow - this book is making me rethink all of my previous strong recommendations. Susanna Clarke brings you along for what I can only describe as calm psychological thriller. It’s a book that I imagine I’ll want to read again for the first time for many years to come. In some ways, the Portal 2 of books? Strong strong recommend.

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

genre: Dystopian Fiction published: 1985 time read: July 27th 2022

I feel like I’ve done my due diligence as a Canadian - but beyond that, Atwood is concise and provocative. The book itself reads well, and the stream-of-consciousness / metafiction elements are done quite well. However, what I think is most interesting is Atwood’s framing of the book itself - that, in writing it, she hasn’t invented a new reality, but simply extended upon history. For that reason alone, I find The Handmaid’s Tale spectacular.

Debt: The First 5000 Years

by David Graeber

genre: Anthropology/Economic History published: 2011 time read: June 2022 - July 2022

I’m now torn. On one hand, I think the storytelling and narrative of this book is resoundingly novel. It challenges the creation myths of barter, coinage, and ultimately, modern economics. Many of its ideas are revolutionary and provide a stellar alternate perspective on the world. That being said - I think I’ll need to think a bit more about how verifiable these claims are. Still, an absolute stellar recommend for anybody interested in economics and/or human history - the intro chapter alone is all worth it.

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

genre: Drama published: 2017 time read: May 2022

Celeste Ng’s sophomore novel is an absolute sucker punch. Without spoiling the main premise of the book, it is a masterpiece in family and relational drama. I’m teleported to Shaker Heights and feel the stress of the Richardsons and Warrens. I’m especially impressed by the last third of the book, where all of Ng’s setup and various moving parts all click into place. A strong and timely recommendation.

Watchmen

by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, John Higgins

genre: Alternate History / Comic Book published: 1988 time read: March 2022 - April 2022

Who watches the watchmen? The comic book that changed societal perspectives on comics as a medium is as poignant as ever. Watchmen is a stellar commentary on superhero vigilantism, American imperialism, and the fundamental nature and morals of humanity. It also juxtaposes the icons of Western culture with the horrific reality of its product. My only regret is reading the book after watching the movie. The HBO series is definitely next on my list.

Foundation

by Isaac Asimov

genre: Science Fiction published: 1951 time read: February 27th 2022

Foundation is a stellar use of the future to examine our past. Asimov packages the rise and fall of great empires into a grand narrative surrounding power. A genre-definer in its own right; excited to read more!

The Sympathizer

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

genre: Historical Thriller published: 2016 time read: December 2021 - January 2022

The Sympathizer is anger, confusion, and nihilism manifested into literature. Nguyen’s writing style is deeply intimate and shocking, if dramatic at times. The narrator’s whirlwind tour of the aftermath of the Vietnam War is as enthralling as it is disturbing. Commentary seeps in to every page of the book: on war, political ideology, hypocrisy, sex, dignity, allegiance, propaganda and ultimately, duality. Nothing is worth more than independence and freedom.

Design Justice

by Sasha Costanza-Chock

genre: Intersectional Design published: 2020 time read: December 2021

Wow, I’m in awe. Sasha Costanza-Chock does a stellar job of deconstructing design and analyzing it through the lens of intersectionality and the matrix of dominantion. This book is in rare form - the ideas are novel and groundbreaking, but the text is extremely accessible with strong ties to real practice. I especially enjoyed their discussion on design sites, challenging the exclusive culture of hackathons, makerspaces, and other hacker clubs. I wish I read this book before I ran Teach LA; a must-read for anybody with decision-making in the design process.

Slaughterhouse-Five

by Kurt Vonnegut

genre: Dark Comedy published: 1969 time read: November 26th 2021

This book was not at all what I imagined it to be. Vonnegut’s breakthrough is the prototypical everything: an anti-war book, a satire, humanistic science fiction, and a razor-sharp prose and style that has defined postmodernism. It is memento mori. So it goes.

Klara and the Sun

by Kazuo Ishiguro

genre: Science Fiction published: 2021 time read: September 13th 2021

Klara and the Sun is a haunting tale. While the trope of “seeing the world as a robot” is nothing new, Ishiguro’s take on it struck a particular emotional cord with me. Klara has a pure, childlike innocence that makes her perspective as jarring as it is intelligent. Definitely looking to read more of his work!

The Memory Police

by Yōko Ogawa | translated by Stephen Snyder

genre: Science Fiction published: 1994 translated: 2019 time read: July 9th 2021

The Memory Police is a harrowing exploration of humanity grounded in memory. Ogawa creates a mysterious authoritarian state that rivals Orwell’s or Bradbury’s, but brings a certain balance of intimacy and coldness that renders this novel particularly terrifying. Her writing style is terse, exploratory, wrapping tendrils around your mind - and she doesn’t let go. Overall a strong recommend.

Crying in H Mart

by Michelle Zauner

genre: Memoir published: 2021 time read: June/July 2021

I’ve never been a huge memoir person, but Michelle Zauner is changing my mind. Crying in H Mart is a direct channel for her emotions: pain, love, and loss bleed through each page. She brings us intimately into her family and tells a story that you can taste and smell as much as you can read. She juggles a set of experiences that I find all too relatable: of parental struggle, fitting in neither in America nor in Asia, and ultimately, a feeling of hopelessness. A strong recommend.

The Three-Body Problem

by Cixin Liu | translated by Ken Liu

genre: Science Fiction published: 2008 translated: 2014 time read: June 15th - June 19th 2021

The Three-Body Problem is everything I love about science fiction: not just pushing the limits of technology and imagination, but exploring the nature of humanity at technological extremes. Cixin Liu balances the philosophical nature of science and interstellar physics against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution; Ken Liu’s translation is immaculate.

Because Internet

by Gretchen McCulloch

genre: Internet Linguistics published: 2019 time read: March - June 2021

Because Internet is everything I love about linguistics and the internet. McCulloch is a masterful (but witty and hip) writer, and deconstructs the history, sociology, and ultimately the core language of the ~ online ~. Each chapter gave so much context to internet-isms I’ve taken for granted, from lowercase texting to sparkle sarcasm to a history of memes. Strong recommend for … literally anybody. (I didn’t get a chance to read at all during spring quarter, but that’s no reflection on the book)

Pachinko

by Min Jin Lee

genre: Family Epic published: 2017 time read: March 23rd - March 25th 2021

I’m in awe. Pachinko is a master class in epic fiction. I would say it is one of the best books I have ever read, period. It is a story of tragedy, perserverance, identity, and family like no other. I don’t have much else to say, other than that it’s been the first piece of media to make me cry for a long while. Please read this book.

Bullshit Jobs

by David Graeber

genre: Cultural Anthropology published: 2018 time read: January 2021

A stark, nuanced peek into meaningless jobs and the ruthless capitalism that underpins it. I think Graeber produces a very convincing paradigm of “bullshit jobs” and their impacts on the human psyche, productivity, and capitalism. Compared to many of the cut-and-dry economics books I’ve read, I especially appreciated Graeber’s human take on fulfilling jobs. My one wish: I hope we get more quantitative research into this field, whether or not his theory is empirically correct. RIP to David Graeber.

Death at an Early Age

by Jonathan Kozol

genre: Education published: 1967 time read: September 2020

Wow. Just wow. This book makes me angry. It is, truly, the classic indictment of inner-city education - beyond that, a cold hard look at the American public education system at large. Even though the events of this book precede the Voting Rights Act, the institutions that Kozol criticizes still continue to marginalize students 55 years later. Each chapter is a cycle of sobering insight, heartbreak, and rage against the system. An essential read for anybody looking to get into education.

Poor Economics

by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

genre: Development Economics published: 2011 time read: September 2020

This book is ultimately a manifesto for the work that Banerjee and Duflo (and to an extent, Michael Kremer) undertook that ultimately won them their Nobel prize: a granular, experimental approach to alleviating global poverty (especially with RCTs). I really enjoyed their systematic analysis of what causes poverty, and likely more importantly, their ability to admit that there is no silver bullet to fixing inequality. Definitely one of the first books I’d recommend to anybody looking to get into economics.

Why Nations Fail

by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

genre: Political Economics published: 2012 time read: July/August 2020

One of the most influential economics books in the past decade. The most cited economist of the past 10 years. Possibly the most important question at the crossroads of political science and economics. Why Nations Fail pulls no punches as Acemoglu and Robinson explain their simple but crucial theory: that nations thrive from inclusive economic and political institutions, and fail by their extractive counterparts. They analyze nations throughout human history, starting with the Roman Empire and ending with the status quo and American neoimperialism; and in each case, they prove their mettle as award-winners in their field and reinforce the importance of inclusive institutions. At the end of the day, this has been one of the most comprehensive magnum opus-style books that I’ve read, and one that I’d wholeheartedly recommend to anybody.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami | translated by Jay Rubin

genre: Surrealist Fiction published: 1994 translated: 1997 time read: May 2020

To many, this is Murakami’s magnum opus, and I wouldn’t disagree. From an extremely mundane and typical man and environment, Murakami conjures yet another fantastical story: one that touches on Japanese suburbia, war crimes in World War II, and a set of relationships set around existentialism and death. As magical as this book is, it’s definitely in the “odd reads” category; but still, it has my complete recommendation.