I’m repurposing several years’ worth of reading lists, many of which I kept to answer “What do you read” and “Where do you come up with those crazy ideas” when posed as valid and interested questions. This is the 2016 version, with a bit of 2020 commentary. I provide author and title only; find these at your favorite bookseller (online or real world) as there are no advertising or commissionable links below. Additional comments and editorial notes are [so noted]. 2016 involved a lot more magazines (music and technology) and the usual themes remain: music, sci-fi, favorite authors, more sci-fi. Lots of Colson Whitehead (I am such a fan boy), poker, music and some one-timer authors. And I make a Hot Topic joke (read on).
37. “Babylon’s Ashes,” sci-fi, James SA Corey, finished December 31.
A lot of magazine catchup and other reading in the middle and I finally picked up the sixth book of the Expanse series (which is a rather fun-to-watch series on SyFy now). [2020 comment: Now on Amazon Prime and with renewed life; watch it as it’s as good as the books.] The latest installment provided all of the thematic elements I’ve come to expect — nicely written space battles, strategic insights, characters that do more than give long existential soliloquies that fill in some mythic back story, and a nice plot that doesn’t resolve itself until the final chapters. The Expanse Writers (James SA Corey is a pen name representing two authors) hopefully don’t run into the book-vs-adaptation problem of “Game of Thrones” where the live action outpaces the underlying story, as they have a five-book head start with purportedly three more to go. A nice way to end the year, like running into an old friend whom you haven’t seen in nine months and picking up right where you left off.
36. “The Princess Diarist,” biography, Carrie Fisher, finished December 12.
Nerds of a certain age will admit to having a crush on Carrie Fisher; Carrie Fisher admits to a crush and much more with Harrison Ford during the filming of the first “Star Wars” movie. What’s amazing is the raw emotion and self-doubt she captures in her diary transcriptions, along with the sense that they were making a movie with no absolutely no premonition that it would redefine movie-making, box office gross, merchandising, and create a generation of fanboys. She’s self-deprecating and only takes the serious parts seriously enough; if “Star Wars” action was made by possible by miniatures then Fisher’s book describes how the human-sized story was made not only possible but plausible.
35. “The Underground Railroad,” historical fiction, Colson Whitehead, finished December 5.
I love Whitehead’s narratives about everything from poker to a zombie invasion of New York City. Here he tackles slavery, freedom, identity, love, hope and family. His fictionalized view of the Underground Railroad — as a real, locomotive driven train, in multiple formats and contexts — has enough freedom, liberty and self-sufficiency metaphors to fill a dozen exam books. And I think some of that imagination is needed to balance the harsh realities of the fact-based slave stories, the brutality, dehumanization and abject terror related in abundantly real terms. As difficult as it is to read, it’s almost required reading, especially in the current American polite climate. [2020 comment: This, along with “The Nickel Boys,” are absolutely required reading if you want to understand the deep roots of cultural division].
34. “Arrival (Stories of Your Life),” sci-fi, Ted Chiang, finished November 22.
Reading the book before seeing the movie, and delighted that a co-worker handed this to me at the end of a long business trip. I was muddling through Dean Budnick’s trope on the concert business (and will likely revisit in later in the month) and this was a welcome change. Each of the stories has some deep computer science, metaphysical or mathematical basis; whether it’s Godel’s incompleteness theorem or the self doubt and questioning that shook some of the mathematical minds tackling infinite and transfinite spaces (Cantor and Hilbert, to name two). One of the weirder but more wonderful tales, “72 Characters” is a derivative of the Kabbalist 72 Names of God mashed up with golem mechanics. Really. And it works.
33. “Born To Run,” biography/music, Bruce Springsteen, finished November 10.
Half of this reads as an erudite, incredibly well intoned and expressed discussion of how songs spring from the mind of the artist; it’s a verbal transcription of the creative process and inspiration that is properly reflective of that wonder. Half of it reads like a transcription of Springsteen’s on-stage inter-song banter. And that is the dichotomy that is Bruce Springsteen — his music, his voice, his everyman images, the dynamic range of his musical accompaniment. I flat out loved this book; in between recognizing my own personal history in the bits of Freehold so exposed, I felt like I was an active listener as Springsteen explained just how he wrote himself into all of our lives.
32. “Div Grad Curl and All That,” math, H. M. Schey, finished October 26.
A quick diversion (or more properly a curl-out) from regularly scheduled book reading, I had been loaned this gem by an exceptionally nerdy co-worker. Cleaning out my office to go “open space” I packed it for a trip, intending to read it and return it to said co-worker at the end of the week. For a few nights, I remembered why I loved vector calculus so much, and it gently jogged my memory of the delight I found applying divergence and curl functions to explain how an electric guitar pickup worked. This is a great summary of the math that underlies a lot of electricity, magnetism, audio, fluid and other flow problems. I’m not sure what I’ll do with those newly refreshed neural connections, but when is the last time you read a math book recreationally?
31. “The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry,” sports, John Feinstein, finished October 14.
I was mid-way through Feinstein’s gospels of Tobacco Road when I hurriedly picked up the other Duke story to prepare for a charity event. I wrote a longer, personal summary of the story and won’t repeat it here except to say that Feinstein will make you change your historical views of three great coaches, for better or for worse, but with an alacrity and poise that’s rare for a sports book.
30. “Decide To Play Great Poker,” sports, Annie Duke and John Vorhous, finished October 8.
If the late John Nash and Stephen Colbert were able to write a book together, this would be it. One part game theory, one part psychological expose, and one part emotional management, this is now my new favorite poker book, easing out “Super/System” and even giving Colson Whitehead a run for the money. Duke is jocular, jarring and jesting all at once; if you don’t have the (good or bad) fortune to sit opposite her at a poker table this is as close as you can get without emptying your wallet. Yes, it was dense, and yes, it did take me nearly two full weeks to make it through the whole book. I picked this up while reading one of John Feinstein’s college basketball books, to which I will return, triumphantly or not, after putting Annie Duke’s wisdom to work in a poker tournament (that was, in all truthiness, why I purchased the book). [2020 Comment: This book works. Followed a number of her strategies while playing in her charity tournament, and finished second — losing to Annie’s sister with the exact hand she uses to illustrate her points, in the last hand of the tourney. she uses to illustrate good play. Which I did not make.]
29. “Three Moments of an Explosion,” fiction, China Mieville, finished September 6.
A large collection of short stories by the ever-brain expanding China Mieville, completing my August hat trick of his recent releases. Every story makes you think in some way, some are nothing more than skeletons of movie trailers while others are near-novella length. There are nearly thirty stories in the collection, about twice the typical packing density for a book loaded with the “new strange” view of fiction. Each one captures some sense of our humanity; my favorite being that of the card players who encounter atypical suits and the unlikely brotherhood that envelops them. There are clearly ideas that found their way into other books, ranging from the sudden appearance of new lands to explore to exploring how our perception colors (or changes?) reality.
28. “This Census Taker,” fiction, China Mieville, finished August 24.
27. “The Last Days of New Paris,” fiction, China Mieville, finished August 21.
Two novella-length books from Mieville, one (New Paris) his latest release, and one from the start of the year, both freaky and haunting and redolent of stories set to Dream Theater albums. “New Paris” is a faint reflection of some themes from the Bas Lag books but set to a completely artistic beat; the coupling of WWII spy vs spy story with intense Surrealism (in every vein) was equally fun and unnerving and intriguing. “Census Taker” had the same impact and force but along different vectors; a study in identity and memory and family relationships. Mieville is moving into the pantheon of “must read on release day” authors for me, and I’m increasingly having trouble calling his work “science fiction” as opposed to straight-up “fiction”. Independent of labels, he crafts worlds and contexts and emotional microclimates like a master.
26. “Chaos Monkeys,” business, Antonio Garcia Martinez, finished August 14.
Palace intrigue inside Twitter and Facebook as well as some Silicon Valley VCs makes a solid foundation for a nerd story. Halfway through, however, I was reminded of Dolly Brunson’s poker maxim (which Martinez even quotes in a footnote): “If you’re at a poker table and don’t know who the sucker is, it’s you.” Reading this all the way through, you’re left feeling like Martinez believes everyone else is an idiot, and therefore in the contra-Brunson logic only he can be the smartest one in the Bay Area. Knowing more than one person name-dropped in the story, I found his contexts for several stories bent facts and time to his narrative advantage. The biggest disappointment for me, though, was the sexist language; while implicitly diminishing the “bro” culture, Martinez writes about women in the workplace like a lax bro with a Chabon-ic command of vocabulary. Word play doesn’t absolve misdirected use of words. It’s a good and worthwhile book to read, even if you only take away the actual workplace mindset faced by women in technology.
25. “Back From The Dead,” sports, Bill Walton, finished August 2.
Wasn’t sure what to expect from Walton’s autobiography, liberally sprinkled with Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead lyrics. I remembered seeing him as a Boston Celtic, winning an NBA title, as I was leaving Bean town, and seeing him again as an NCAA commentator as his own son played — and was struck by his grace, his humor, and his physical presence. His book fills in a huge number of hidden layers — the career shortening physical problems, his chronic back pain, his love of live music and how he became a Dead Head, but most revealing to me was his long and wonderful relationship with John Wooden. It’s not a work of scholarly note, or particularly meaningful sports prose, but it’s powerful in seeing Wooden’s lessons reflected through Walton’s life, and appreciating how hard Walton worked to excel despite his chronic pain and physical defects. A must read for anyone who has suffered chronic back pain, or for anyone caring for someone afflicted with back pain. Not what you’d expect from a sports book, but Bill Walton isn’t what you expect from a Dead Head either. [2020 comment: I’m a huge John Wooden fan, to the point where one of my former employees sent me the “Wooden Pyramid” sticker from the UCLA bookstore after she started her graduate program. When you see professionals like Walton praise him as well, I’m even more enamored of his philosophies]
24. “The Intuitionist,” fiction, Colson Whitehead, finished July 22.
First novels run the gamut from awe-inspiring glimpses into what’s possible in disposing of staid genres (Jodi Picoult) or sometimes play out as one-hit wonders (“Ready Player One”) that dredge up memory of songs from the high school cafeteria jukebox or your first car’s FM radio (if you suffered either of those). I had the advantage of approaching Whitehead’s work sidelong, starting with his take on the World Series of Poker, drifting into his fiction and then back to his fiction starting line. While the reviews on “The Intuitionist” are highly mixed, I adored this book. It’s a story about race, and perception, and bias, and it’s best to imagine the setting as a project of Disney’s “Tomorrowland” or “Carousel of Progress” as seen from nearly half a century of perspective, yet eerily modern in context, tone and message. The last twenty pages of this book are among the best — of any book — I’ve read all year.
23. “The Nightmare Stacks,” sci-fi, Charles Stross, finished July 14.
After the last “Laundry Files” book in which hero Bob Howard and his eerie violinist spouse seemed to be going in seemingly random directions, I was already waiting with too much anxiety for the next installment in the series. And Stross delivers another left turn with the first “Laundry” book in which Howard is nothing more than a footnote, and characters from the 2015 “Rhesus Chart” re-appear with renewed vim, vigor and Strossian humor. Once again Stross draws a fast moving story arc, this time with sentient horrors from across the time-space continuum, and the usual mix of British proprietary, contemporary nerd humor and math jokes makes this a winner, seven in the series.
22. “Mash Up,” sci-fi, edited by Gardner Dozois, finished July 2.
A neat anthology of short science fiction stories, all based on the concept of taking the first line from a famous literary work and then riffing on it, sometimes incorporating the relevant source material. The Moby Dick infused story reads like a “Wicked” version of Melville’s book; “The Evening Line” exudes Damon Runyon’s “Guys and Dolls” characters. Contributions from some favorite writers, from Scalzi to Mary Robinette Kowal, Robert Charles Wilson and Elizabeth Bear, combined with the pithy format, make this a fun and fast read.
21. “Zone One,” fiction, Colson Whitehead, finished June 24.
I’ve been on a Colson Whitehead kick since “Noble Hustle” and I really, truly wanted to devour (no pun) this even though the Whitehead-does-zombie-apocalypse theme started me at a mental five down vote disadvantage. In short, this isn’t a zombie or science fiction story, as much as a story about human nature and survival and how dark humor helps us navigate the darkest of moral and mental waterways. It’s more similar to Cormac MacCarthy’s “The Road” than anything else. I found it a bit more difficult to assemble given the multiple timelines and minimal naming schemes for characters and places, but that’s also a way to reflect on the context: how do we assign names when all points of reference are unreliable, including the protagonist’s sense of self? It’s good, and compelling, but not exactly summer beach reading.
20. “Absolution Gap,” sci-fi, Alastair Reynolds, finished June 14.
The conclusion of the “Revelation Space” trilogy, checking in a bit over 700 pages that have the feel of high-energy condensed matter. Reynolds touches on all of the design themes you’d expect: religion, dynastic strength and wealth, shifting allegiances in the face of unknown enemies. There’s a parallel plot line which starts subtly, gains conflict amplified by the “A plot” and is one that you’ll figure out before the exposition, but it doesn’t rely on cheesy mechanics like time travel or deus-ex-machina. It’s as much opera as space, and I agree with the notion that Reynolds has breathed life into the form.
19. “Properties of Light,” fiction, Rebecca Goldstein, finished May 22.
Normally I enjoy Goldstein’s fiction and scientific narratives, but “Properties of Light” mixes romance with parallel plot constructions with some bizarre implications that great science comes from impropriety. Quite simply, I don’t think I picked up on all of the subtlety, and the repetitive language coupled with the typesetting used to imply thought or different timelines was exhausting. While Goldstein may have been aiming for Gothic, she ended up with a literary Hot Topic melange of styles and snippets.
18. “Chains of Command,” sci-fi, Marko Kloos, finished May 13.
The latest installment in the “Frontlines” space opera, Kloos delivers another highly detailed, combat- and strategy-oriented tale that further explores Andrew Grayson’s character. Unfortunately, that’s about all that is revealed; I felt that four or five points of storyline would have benefited from more exposition. While it’s possible to surmise at motivations for major plot devices like “all of the Earth’s leaders bailed with most of the Earth’s arsenal” the underpinnings — and backstory — felt important. Clearly this is an intermediate book meant to move the story along, and much like the intermediate books of “The Expanse” it serves its purpose. A quick, fun read, but not quite on bar with the first two books of the series. I’m hoping that Kloos picks up steam with the series conclusion, because the way he unveils combat scenes feels like a formal military history professor dissecting the action, with color commentary thrown in to make it real time (and yes, that’s a good thing; it’s equivalent to the depth of the sword fighting scenes in the “Mongoliad” trilogy).
17. “Sag Harbor,” fiction, Colson Whitehead, finished May 5.
Colson Whitehead has written the book I’ve always wanted to write about Long Beach Island, growing up in that special extended network of people who went “down the shore.” He captures the essence of a coming of age story with the wonderfully textured memories of our favorite places and the characters that inhabited the routes between them. Our family is rich with stories and history that we share over holiday meals, and here Whitehead has delivered on par with “Noble Hustle” in broadening the audience for the halo we place over our first adult twinges.
16. “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble,” business, Dan Lyons, finished May 2.
One measure of my love for a book is the page count before I chortle. Another is the audacity to call the ball on a subtle but difficult trend, like ageism or the insane valuations placed on companies without profit models. And the final is use of vernacular I have often taken as uniquely my own (case in point: Lyons uses the phrase “pinch a loach” exquisitely). Dan Lyons, The Writer Formerly Known as Fake Steve Jobs, delivers a hat trick of wonderful prose in this one. Lyons is what he is — he’s an aging newsie who really knows technology and has an acerbic but blindingly bright wit — and he delivers a tour de force of Darth Vader gravitas about the Dark Side of the technology Force. I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially if you’re over 40 and a nerd. [2020 comment: Read this. He’s funny but his searing insights into toxic culture are timely and absolutely a bias for action]
15. “Redemption Ark,” sci-fi, Alastair Reynolds, finished April 26.
Probably the longest read of the year, in terms of elapsed time and page count. The mid-point of a trilogy that grew to a four-corners of space with “Chasm City,” it’s a much deeper treatment of the characters from “Revelation Space.” Less hard science, more politics, psychology and literal redemption round out a very rich story.
14. “Might As Well,” music, Dean Budnick, finished March 26.
Took an intra-book break from the multiple plot lines of Reynolds to pick up the fictional interleaving plot lines of seven characters who take in a Dead show in the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands. If you’re a Deadhead, a Phan, or have spent any time on tour, you’ll see yourself in at least some of the characters and their interactions with each other and their 20,000 touring buddies. This was a fun read with subtle historical overtones (Budnick claims he took inspiration from the still unsolved death of Adam Katz at an October 1989 Dead show at the Meadowlands). From people who speak in lyrics to obscure TV cultural references to calling the setlist, this book had me reliving the sights, sounds and veritable smells of a summer Phish show — while it’s definitely rooted in Dead culture, song and soul, it conveys in under 300 pages how hundreds of hours of tapes (now downloads), shows and time in less than perfect transportation builds a multi-generational community.
13. “Revelation Space,” sci-fi, Alastair Reynolds, finished April 1.
Part of the series that includes “Chasm City,” I was eager to dive back into the deeply crafted Reynolds-wrapped worlds. This one took a bit more effort, in part due to the difficult typesetting of the paperback edition: there are shifts in narrative stance and timeline within a chapter, and at times abrupt jumps in perspective were evidenced by nothing more than a paragraph break (in most cases the demarcations were quite clear). Either the book is denser than some of his others, or the multiple timelines added to the confusion, but I was nearly at the midway point before this really got going. Not my favorite, but a good story that fills in more of the Glitter Band/Melding Plague/Conjoiner/Ultra universe, and a nice complement to “Chasm City” and “Redemption Ark” (which is currently open on the nightstand).
12. “Steve Jobs,” biography, Walter Issacson, finished March 17.
I resisted reading this for a long time, mostly because I have my own, myopic view of Jobs through the eyeglasses of an engineer (Jobs never build an electronic circuit or wrote a line of code; he was a product designer and visionary and leader). At the same time, I haven’t laid out traces or used a compiler in years either, so some of my reluctance was self-imposed fear of looking in the mirror and seeing an ideal that is multiple standard deviations from where I stand. In reality, the book was a slow read because I stopped to pause and reflect (much as I did going through Springsteen’s biography) — not just on things to do more of, but on the types of interactions that people found toxic and how the relentless drive for design perfection might be tempered with a human drive for positive relationships. It’s a superbly written, very fairly presented view of Jobs, and I took some personal pleasure in the name drops of people with whom I’d worked over the last twenty five years. Finished it, somewhat fittingly, while on a business trip in the Bay Area, and I left it in the nightstand next to the Gideon Bible. [2020 comment: I have picked up other biographies by Issacson, and haven’t made it past the front matter on any of them; I think this book may have ruined his writing for me]
11. “Chasm City,” sci-fi, Alastair Reynolds, finished February 18.
There are any number of themes in Reynolds’ works that could themselves be spines in well-constructed sci-fi worlds. The fact that he drops so many ideas into his work, letting the reader sort out the moral, political and scientific implications, makes you appreciate the richness of his books even more. Loaned to me by a fellow sci-fi fan, “Chasm City” reminded me how much I like Reynolds and sent me back to amazon.com to order the rest of the “Revelation Space” series. While it’s not necessary to read them in sequence (another good mark: each novel stands on its own) I’m increasingly believing it’s necessary to read them in their entirety. [Late edit: the next step in this series wasn’t quite as strong as the first, but I’m still tracking]
10. “The Three Body Problem,” sci-fi, Cixin Liu, finished February 6.
A Hugo award winner, it made my late 2015 list and represented my first foray outside of known authors or subjects in a while. Translated from Chinese, the book is replete with footnotes on various events in Chinese history and their historical or contextual impact on the story. That said, this was a difficult read — both trying to piece together the multiple story lines and trying to understand the underlying messages about science, popular belief, and human nature. I’ll admit I appreciated the book but am not sure I’ll finish the trilogy once translated (and yes, I seem to be drawn back into trilogies). [2020 comment: Cixin Liu’s books seem to bifurcate my sci-fi nerdy friends. Some love the trilogy, some don’t get it. I just found it hard to digest, and enjoy the benefit of experiencing the first book]
9. “The City and The City,” sci-fi, China Mieville, finished January 24.
I went through most of the Mieville canon about eighteen months ago, and was appropriately weirded out by his insect-human and body mod-as-punishment world creation. “The City and The City” is a standalone book, set in two fictional cities that could very well be Prague (or BudaPest) in both pre- and post-Velvet Revolution years. The storytelling is as layered and variegated as an archaeological dig, where you are misdirected time and again looking for clues that set historical context. The undercurrent — what is seen and not seen — reminded me alternatively of the strict British politeness of Downtown Abbey while smacking of the apparatchik of Communist dominated Czechoslovakia. My favorite Mieville book so far. Dense and hard to get into, but so well worth the effort.
8. “Just Kids,” music/art, Patti Smith, finished January 15.
My knowledge of Patti Smith was limited to her Springsteen contribution “Because the Night” and an apocryphal story that she also hailed from Freehold, NJ (she grew up much closer to Jersey Devil and Flyer fan country in actuality). This book reduced my reading pace, both because it filled my first week back from vacation (where I’m fighting sleepiness rather than reading on the beach) and because the prose is rich, nuanced and insightful. A tangential love story of her life with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, “Just Kids” is an artists’ book in a literal literal sense — it makes you uncomfortable at times, and you feel the difficulty and challenges faced by both Smith and Mapplethorpe in finding their creative outlets.
7. “Numero Zero,” fiction, Umberto Eco, finished January 6.
Eco is the pretentious Dan Brown. His stories hint at mysteries and conspiracy, rather than bludgeoning you with head fakes, misdirection and plot twists. You have to think through what’s real, implied, inferred and purely cynical. Checking in under 200 pages, only a bit of Italian vocabulary slows down your reading pace. Wickedly satirical views of the fourth estate (par usual) frame tortuous logic in a book that you can zip through in a single sitting. [Postscript: Eco died just a few weeks after I wrote this]
6. “Elysium,” sci-fi, Jennifer Marie Brissett, finished January 5.
My first “wow” book of the year, and most definitely worth reading in one sitting. It takes a few dozen pages to follow the characters and story points, but once you get a general sense of what’s happening (or what you think is happening) it’s easier to look for clues and hints as to how the characters have gone from context A to context B. I was thinking of Cory Doctorow’s “Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town,” Verner Vinge’s “True Names,” and the movie “District 9.” One of my favorite book after-effects is finding thoughts of the plot or characters or particular situations entertaining me — and Brissett leaves a bright after image.
5. “Phish: The Biography,” music, Parke Puterbaugh, finished January 5.
Of the short handful of Phish related books I’ve read in the past three years, this is far and away the best. Puterbaugh delves into the stories behind the albums, the group dynamics, and some of the song histories. I came away with a much greater appreciation for why phans make such (irrelevant, in my opinion) distinctions between the various phases of the band’s history. Unlike other tomes which focus on specific aspects of a show, a jam, or the literal or musical road between segments of each, this is truly a biography — updated after the band’s 2009 reunion and rebirth. Having just started listening to Phish in 2010 (when I left Sun Microsystems and found myself with a summer in which to do nothing more than listen to a lot of music), I was ignorant of much of the history; like many other bands (Yes, Genesis, even Rush) I find myself entering the mainstream of their fan base mid-life. And the sincere hope, after this book, is that this is indeed only a middle point in the great jam arc of the band.
4. “Ancillary Mercy,” sci-fi, Anne Leckie, finished January 3.
3. “Ancillary Sword,” sci-fi, Anne Leckie, finished January 2.
Fitting conclusions to the trilogy, and another departure from the space opera literary devices of blowing up ships, planets and other large man-made objects in favor of solid narrative and character development. Yes, I read them in a day, a task made easier having formed opinions about Leckie’s gender/pronoun phrasing and by the slightly shorter length of the second and third books. The books take place in a nearly linear temporal space; only a few days elapse between the conclusion of one and the start of the next, easing mental continuity. There is a bit more snark from the middle on; and Leckie’s depiction of the alien Presger is as hilarious (and startling) as Scalzi’s “Agent to the Stars.”
2. “Jaco,” music, Bill Milkowski, finished January 1.
I’m trying hard to intersperse music and non-fiction with my usual dose of science fiction. Milkowski’s complete and detailed biography of jazz bassist Jaco Pastorious filled in gaps from my mid-70s jazz education, centered obviously on the success of Weather Report but also delving into Jaco’s earlier dexterity with bass and drums and his struggles with mental illness, poverty and increasingly difficult social behavior that indirectly led to his fatal beating in a Florida nightclub. The conclusion — known to any fans — is sad and frank. Milkowski concludes the updated edition of the book with sixty-three interviews that don’t add much (other than a long chapter) to the other prose, but overall, this is one of the better musician biographies I’ve read, without any of the usual drama that wasn’t at least partially obvious to those who witnessed Jaco’s public decline. [2020 comment: I took a side trip to Jaco Pastorious park in Overland, Florida in mid-2019, and much of this book came alive at that point. If you want to see how the bass become a melodic instrument, and to savor some of the jazz heritage that has propelled modern bassists out of the backline, read or re-read it]
1. “Ancillary Justice,” sci-fi, Anne Leckie, finished December 31.
The only book to win Hugo, Locus, and Arthur C Clarke awards in the same year, Leckie’s space opera dismisses the hard science, perils of faster than light travel and elaborate alien species construction in favor of much more timely and challenging themes: power, privilege, class demarcations, and identity. Her fluid use of pronouns and gender may be confusing at times (it took me about a book and a half to form some theories about pronoun frameworks) but at the same time it forces you to think about the antecedent of the pronoun, and the context in which a pronoun is substituted — making you consider the views and perceptions that generated the literary choice. A great way to start 2016.