It was awhile ago now, but the Rontologist put up an entry about his top shelf and was hoping to probe the deep Freudian secrets that lie beneath our own top shelf decisions. Mine are based on the fact that my top shelf is shorter than the second shelf, so certain choices are essentially forced. I don’t want to know what kind of complex that may represent. There are currently six full bookshelves in my house. Three of those are in my office. I will choose the one behind me because it gets the most consistent use.
From left to right, without further ado…
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
The quintessential book of cosmology for people who can’t pass Astronomy 100, I read this book several years ago and have been browsing it off and on ever since. Hawkings’ attempt to explain these concepts without equations is laudable but I still forget everything I read within days of closing the book.
Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
A harrowing account of a disaster on Everest. Some people have called the author for what they deem questionable behavior, but the book is hard to put down. I’ve read it at least three times.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
This is the best book about life in the kitchen yet written. Sure it explains some things you might wish you didn’t know — the admonishment against ordering fish on a Thursday and why ordering mussels at a restaurant where they are on special is a game of Russian Roulette are sobering — but it’s a thoroughly entertaining read. A word of caution for the sensitive: Bourdain uses language that will make you think “Hmmm, maybe sailors curse like Anthony Bourdain.” I’ve read it four or five times.
Planet Simpson by Chris Turner
A Christmas present. The author attempts to tie the Simpsons into various cultural touchstones and philosophies. Moderately intriguing, I found it too pretentious to keep going before I got halfway through.
The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain
Bits of variety meat and offal from everyone’s favorite explicitly opinionated food writer. It’s no Kitchen Confidential or Cook’s Tour but still a good read for fans.
Masters of Doom by David Kushner
Finally the true story of id software (or at least as true as we’re likely to get.) I’m a confessed John Carmack groupie who has read every interview and watched every keynote available, so this is a well worn book. It’s a very personal look into the rise (and plateau) of id that discusses everything in a way that makes you wish you were there. I’ve read this one six times, and after writing this I’m thinking read seven isn’t too far away.
Fork it Over by Alan Richman
In case you don’t know who Alan Richman is (and, based on my readership, I’m going to guess that’s all of you), he has been the food writer for GQ for years — I’ve been reading him since at least the early nineties. This collects several of his articles and every one reveals why Richman has won so many “best food writing” awards. Alan is the Roger Ebert of food critics – while he does love him some fois gras, he can be just as rapturous about a good hot dog. He sees things for how they are, not how he wishes they would be. I’ve read the whole book four times and certain articles seven or eight times. It’s that good.
To Die For by Stephen Downes
A list of 100 things you should eat before you die. Pretty disappointing.
Slack by Tom Demarco
Allegedly a novel about burnout. I’ve been too tired to read it.
Hackers by Stephen Levy
I only bought this book because I read that it was one of John Carmack’s favorite books. Yeah, I’m a fanboy, but I admit it. It contains several stories about great hackers through the years, from the MIT model railroad club to those whacky Steves who founded Apple to Sierra On-Line and their (in)famous hot tub parties. A great read.
Microserfs by Douglas Coupland
I originally read this book during one sitting in the university library, and actually thought it was autobiographical. Instead, it’s a fictional (but very accurate according to Joel Spolsky, who worked there) account of several Microsoft employees experiencing various ups and downs. I’ve read it a couple times since. It’s a lot of fun and every time I read it after another couple of years in the trenches I see more of my coworkers in its pages.
FIT for Developing Software by Rick Mugridge and Ward Cunningham
There was a project. We wanted to use FIT. I bought this book. Like most books in this milieu it’s a fine intro that was out of date by the time it was printed and doesn’t go into any of the really advanced (read: cool) stuff.
Agile Retrospectives by Esther Derby, Diana Larsen, and Ken Schwaber
I like the idea of what retrospective should be. I hate retrospectives in practice. Why? Because I have yet to work somewhere where the recommendations that the team compiles actually become policy. Generally when retrospective action items are invoked the reply is “there’s no time.” I guess we’ll add it again in the next retrospective. And the one after that. And the one after that. I did enjoy this book, but like books about “good meetings” you need an entire organization on board to make a difference.
User Interface Design by Joel Spolsky
I have yet to meet a developer whom I thought was an outstanding UI developer, and that includes yours truly. This book provides enough ammunition for your average non-designer to develop a UI that is at least functional. While a number of Spolsky’s own prejudices color the recommendations it’s still a valuable resource. Based on what developers usually create one could do substantially worse.
The Perfectionist by Rudolph Chelminski
The tragic tale of Bernard Loiseau, a three star chef from France. How elite are the three star restaurants? At the time this book was written, of all the thousands of restaurants in France, a scant nineteen had three stars. Loiseau killed himself at the mere rumor he would be demoted to two stars. A tragic tale of what can happen when you let your work define who you are.
The Secrets of Consulting by Weinberg
You don’t wanna know. Ha ha.
Peopleware by Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister
I hate this book. You heard that right. I hate this book. Because it speaks to a happy fun land where our opinions and skills are valued, we are given free reign to use them, and we are respected rather than tolerated. I wish that every manager I’ve ever had actually put this book into action. I’d say I wish they would read it but most of them have. They just decide that it’s too hard and go back to the same micromanaging carrot-stick management style that drives everyone crazy.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
I haven’t read this, but it fit in the tiny space left on the shelf.
Business Grammar, Style, and Usage
The Elements of Business Writing by Blake and Bly
Oh baby, I desperately wish most developer and managers would read these books. I’ll give one quick hint for free: count the number of commas you have and take out half of them. I don’t know why but most developers love commas like nerds like a girl in a Princess Leia slave girl costume. Unfortunately that is just the beginning. I would say that nineteen out of twenty documents that are described as “really good for technical documentation” are dross. I don’t know why folks strive for quality in other aspects of their work but settle for bad writing. It’s not that hard.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
My secret life as a fanboy strikes again. I bought this book because I heard John Carmack liked it. I can’t say I was blown away, but it was okay. A neat story that I’d recommend to fans of science fiction, but that is unlikely to draw people to the genre.
Getting Things Done by David Allen
Maybe I’d get more things done if I actually read this.
Candy Freak by Steve Almond
A book about all kinds of candy. It’s well written and meticulously researched, but surprisingly dull. Word Freak is more fun.
Runaways Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughn
One of the best comics from one of the best writers. While this isn’t the strongest arc, they’re all good reads. A gang of kids finds out that their parents are evil masterminds. It goes without saying that hilarity ensues.
Pragmatic Version Control Using Subersion by Mike Mason
A pragmatic book about a pragmatic concept using a pragmatic tool. ‘nuff said.
Professional ASP.NET by a bunch of folks
I really don’t know why I have this book. If anyone wants it, drop me a line.
And there you have it. I’m not sure what secrets of my psyche are revealed herein, but remember that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.