Reading List: Q4 2021

Hal Stern
4 min readJan 3, 2022


The ninth year of keeping a reading list: I like to chronicle what I’ve read and how I’ve reacted, mostly to share my thinking about my thinking. Books are listed in the order in which I’ve finished them, which may not reflect my reading order — I sometimes have two books going at once if one is more technical or business focused and I need to season it with sci-fi or fiction. In addition to breaking most norms for travel, reading time, and interstitial time and space for relaxation, 2021 finds me reading more authors who are simply “not like me” — and I benefitted from the breadth of viewpoints.

If you’re wondering (probably not) about the two week gap between finishing “The Expanse” and “Hench,” I got halfway through Ada Palmer’s conclusion to the Terra Ignota series, and at the 300 page mark I set it down — it’s too flowery, too much soliloquy posting as plot, and honestly just too long to get the point(s). I may finish it, but found I was falling asleep after 10 pages a night. I’ve decided that DNF needn’t only apply to marathons and open wheel racing; if a book feels as aruduous as either it’s going in for a pit stop).

45. “The Unraveling,” sci-fi, Benjamin Rosenbaum, finished October 18

This is a dense, incredibly written and imagined and entirely weird book that had me alternately scratching my head and laughing out loud. Rosenbaum dissects gender, ubiquitous surveillance made social, cancel culture, the long tail of religions, and the “men (people) of action” mythologies to such an incredible extent that I really had to stop and re-assemble my view of the book’s narrative at various points. It took me a full 3 weeks to get through this, as it’s both long and requires you to decipher lexicon and contextual clues. I should have read some of the back matter first (need to remember to do that on my Kindle). Overall, though, along with Monica Byrne’s “The Actual Star” it’s one of my favorite books of the year.

46. “Unrequited Infatuations,” music, Steven van Zandt, finished October 25.

It’s not going to win literary awards and it occasionally reads like James Gandolfini (in character) teasing apart Hunter S Thompson. It’s not a kiss and tell, it’s not a song by song discography or show travelogue, but it is a wonderful treatment of van Zandt’s personae: Springsteen’s side kick, band front man, producer and arranger, Silvio Dante and Frank Tagliano (from Lillyhammer). van Zandt manages to mix the behind the scenes view of how albums get made with the actual business of making and playing music in an entirely self-deprecating (sometimes to a fault, he’s not exactly bankrupt from going on tour) and appropriately funny way.

47. “The Wanderers,” sci-fi, Chuck Wendig, finished November 15

Clocking in over 800 pages long, a mash up of “The Stand” and “The Matrix” with a bit of deus ex machina for good effect, this is a perfect Chuck Wendig novel: every time you think you’ve figured out how it’s going to end, it takes another twist (and another 200 pages). There are a few scientific details left as exercises for the reader, and this goes quite deep into characters (and there are a lot of characters in B- and C-plots).

48. “Let Them Lead,” business/sports, John Bacon, finished November 26

Purchased for me by another member of the Devils Youth staff when I was questioning how to motivate a group of 7 year olds, and it resolved to the best business leadership book I’ve read all year. The simple emphasis on people development, measurement and goal setting is remarkable. Now I have to find Bacon’s TED talks.

49. “Whistling Vivaldi,” non-fiction/business, Claude Steele, finished December 10.

Picked this up after a reference in the Princeton Alumni magazine, and found it relevant, actionable and insightful. Steele looks at how perceived and reinforced stereotypes create performance blockers, in everything from sports to work to educational environments. There is a lot of academic rigor in these studies, but he builds theses and supports them in a style that’s much more relatable than a scholarly journal.

50. “Leviathan Falls,” sci-fi, James SA Corey, finished December 16.

The 9th and final book in the series ties together threads from the opening scenes in a dark, tortured and tortuous way. A few friends have commented that the last book is difficult reading; it is precisely because the authors paint a set for redemption, love, hope, and a multiple-year long reflection on what it means to be human when “human” is stretched to its ethical limits. The last three chapters are sincere and wonderful, and the epilogue brought both smile and sniffle.

51. “Hench,” sci-fi/fantasy, Natalie Zina Walschots, finished December 30.

What if heroes were valued not for their acts but for the total cost of their collateral damage in property and lives? What if you applied deep data science to comic book tropes and what came out was more Six Sigma than Greek god(dess)? On a year-end recommended list, Walschots’s first full length novel is a fast paced, equally funny and poignant tear down of the super hero and arch nemesis myths and origin stories.

52. “Write One Song,” music, Jeff Tweedy, finished December 31.

After seeing a reference to Tweedy’s book in Relix, and thinking about actually trying to write something original, I picked up Tweedy’s book — and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not long, and contains a core of song writing (and extrapolating, prose and poetry writing) exercises. Probably the best value/time reading quotient of the year.

53. “Lessons From The Road: Musicians As Business Leaders,” music/business, Todd Pasternack, finished December 31.

While on a music and lessons-from-musicians kick, I raced through Pasternack’s book that includes, of all things, life advice from Al Schneir of moe. (His “Al-nouncements” at moe. shows are reason enough to like his style). There’s nothing earth shattering here, some of what you’d expect (listen more, figure out how to get people to play their roles/instruments well, empower creativity) but it falls short of actual methods to do just that — a useful, short book and enjoyable intersession (before whirlwind of 2022 “real work” spins up) reading.



Hal Stern

By day: CIO for R&D at a drug company. Scalable computing, data privacy, performance. Non-day: husband, parent, phan, bass player, career coach and ally.