Books I've read. March '24

Mar 22, 2024

This winter was quite full of different new things in my life. I moved (again) to a new city, finally began systematically learning the Finnish language, and also spent some time getting acquainted with TypeScript, AWS CDK, and Powertools for AWS Lambda. Due to all this, there wasn’t much time for books. But still, a certain number of new books were on my reading list, so here is another post about the books I’ve read.

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I decided to name the new posts in this series using the year and month instead of a serial number. But the old ones will remain unchanged. You can find previous posts below:

This time there were more non-fiction books - two of them related to programming stuff, one about the psychology and psychotherapy of men, one about statistics, and one about anarchy. But I also read a few fiction novels. Here are all these books:

  1. “SQL for Data Analysis: Advanced Techniques for Transforming Data into Insights” by Cathy Tanimura
  2. “Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs” by Curious George Brigade
  3. “Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men” by James Hollis
  4. “How to Lie with Statistics” by Darrell Huff
  5. “Dogs of Europe” by Alhierd Baharevich
  6. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov
  7. “The Last Hero” by Terry Pratchett
  8. “Clojure in Production” by Ivan Grishaev

“SQL for Data Analysis: Advanced Techniques for Transforming Data into Insights” by Cathy Tanimura

Book cover

I decided to read this book mainly because I have been doing a lot of analytical tasks at work, and some of them require writing quite complex SQL queries. In my normal work as a backend developer, the ability to create simple queries to databases (so-called CRUD operations - create, read, update, and delete) is often enough. However, data analysis often requires more in-depth knowledge. The book describes various topics that are often encountered during data analysis and shows in detail how this can be done using SQL queries to relational databases. In particular, the book covers next topics:

  • preparing data for analysis
  • time series analysis
  • cohort analysis
  • text analysis
  • anomaly detection
  • experiment analysis
  • creation of complex data sets

The book was quite useful for me. If you want to improve your knowledge in this area, then I can recommend it to you.

“Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs” by Curious George Brigade

Book cover

I do not consider myself to be an adherent of anarchism, but sometimes I am interested in reading something new about it. This time I decided to read something from modern anarchist literature. And quite by chance, I chose this book. In general, this is a collection of essays by various members of the Curious George Brigade (an anarchist collective associated with post-left anarchy), so different parts of the book tell different stories, and may even present slightly different points of view on the same things. Some of the essays were really interesting, such as a comparison of anarchist movements around the world - their main goals, values, ideas, and methods and tactics to achieve these goals. Some of the essays turned out to be quite boring and looked more like a set of propaganda slogans. But in general, the ideas of this book can be summed up by this quote:

Anarchists have clear list of enemies: the State, capitalism, and hierarchy. We have an equally clear list of desires: mutual aid, autonomy, and decentralization.

“Under Saturn’s Shadow: The Wounding and Healing of Men” by James Hollis

Book cover

I’m not very interested in psychology, psychotherapy, and all that, but decided to read this book after the recommendation in the “Bookshelf” (“Кніжная Шафа”) podcast. The book turned out to be really interesting and useful for me. I have long had thoughts that I should visit a psychotherapist myself, especially since all these events of recent years are not conducive to mental health. But my own stereotypes, prejudices, and fears have always stopped me from doing this. And this book helped me overcome that to some extent. No, I still haven’t started going to therapy, but I do have a better understanding of some of the underlying reasons for my behavior and feelings now. I hope I will eventually decide to visit a specialist.

The author of the book explains in detail that in modern society almost all men are deeply traumatized and constantly experience mental pain, uncertainty, and fear. Society expects a man to be as strong as a stone or iron, and that his whole life should be subordinated to work and service. And anyone who cannot live up to this is not a man. My own father raised me in the same paradigm and told me that a man should never cry. All of this sits deep in us from childhood and gives rise to internal conflicts and problems. The author of the book talks in detail about different aspects of these problems and what can be done about them. The book can be useful not only for men but also for women who would like to understand us better. Here’s a rather interesting quote from the book:

Jungian therapist Robert Hopcke went further: based on his experience, he argues that it takes a man a year of attending a psychotherapist, to reach the point at which a woman typically begins therapy - in terms of his ability to express his current feelings and experiences.

“How to Lie with Statistics” by Darrell Huff

Book cover

It is not a very long book (I read it in 2 evenings) and it does not contain any deep math. But it tells more about common statistics manipulating methods or just mistakes that can affect the results of analytic tasks in the same way. And these topics are described as short understandable not boring life stories. As I’ve been doing a lot of analytic tasks on my job recently, this book is a good reminder to be more careful. However, I see that in many cases, critical thinking is enough to identify the described mistakes (or manipulations in other statistics).

xkcd comic: extrapolating

This old xkcd comic is a good illustration of one of many topics described in this book.

“Dogs of Europe” by Alhierd Baharevich

Book cover

This book consists of 6 separate stories that are interconnected and tell about Belarus. These connections are sometimes visible quite clearly, and sometimes it is quite difficult to understand them - various people, places, and eras of the past and future are intertwined in them. I was surprised how the author, back in 2006, was able to see the Reich that now threatens us from the East.

A special feature of this book is, for sure, Balbuta - an artificial language that the author invented specifically for this novel, and in which some parts of the book are written. This adds an additional level of complexity while reading, but at the same time, it enhances immersion in the ideas of the book and the process of understanding and realizing meanings. But don’t let this scare you, you won’t have to learn a new language (unless you want to), because at the end of the book there is a Belarusian-Balbutan dictionary. I would also like to mention the magnificent poetry that the author puts at the beginning of each part of the book. Some poems have settled in my heart forever.

“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov

Book cover

I had heard about Nabokov’s magnificent prose style but had never read any of his novels before. And I decided to start getting acquainted with his literature with his most famous and scandalous work. And while reading this book, I really enjoyed the way it was written. I recognize the author’s outstanding talent and want to read more of his work. But at the same time, I felt such an amount of disgust from the story described, which probably did not occur in any other book before. At some moments it felt like real nausea. I understand why some people hate it so much and even want to ban the novel and cancel the author. While reading, I wondered how the author managed to describe the feelings, thoughts, and inner world of a pedophile so accurately and in detail. But I believe that this is the talent of a writer - he can describe a character in such detail without being that kind of person himself. And of course, this book is not about love, but about a sick, abnormal obsession, and manipulating a young girl who is unable to defend herself.

So disgusting and sad, but so fucking cool story.

“The Last Hero” by Terry Pratchett

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This is another book in the series about the Discworld and the adventures of the unlucky wizard Rincewind and “old school warriors” - Cohen the Barbarian and his brothers in arms. This time barbarians set off on their last military campaign and not just anywhere, but straight to the abode of the Gods of the Discworld - a palace known as “Dunmanifestin”. It stays on Cori Celisti, a huge mountain at the Hub of the Disc. The barbarians are going to destroy all the Gods, which will lead to the destruction of the entire Discworld. And it’s up to the wizard Rincewind to stop this!

I already read this book once about 15 years ago, but I read it now again with great pleasure. The story of the barbarians and Rincewind’s journey is truly exciting and does not let you get bored. So, for example, Rincewind will have to fly in a spaceship under the great elephants on which the entire Discworld stands, and also visit the Moon of the Discworld (and then fall from it back to the Disc). I would also like to note that this book is colorfully illustrated by Paul Kidby, who served as the official cover illustrator for Terry Pratchett’s books after the previous illustrator, Josh Kirby, died in 2001. I still dream of seeing all the Discworld books in this design, although most likely this will never happen, because after Terry Pratchett’s death, work on the books ceased.

“Clojure in Production” by Ivan Grishaev

Book cover

Since I’m interested in Clojure, from time to time I have the desire to work with it or learn something new about it. In a previous post I already recommended another book about Clojure. It talked more about the language itself, its philosophy, basic concepts, and syntax. The book “Clojure in Production” tells more about the Clojure ecosystem - about various approaches to solve common problems that developers often encounter in real projects, as well as about popular libraries and frameworks for this. The book is divided into chapters, and covers such things as:

  • web development
  • data structures, types, validation
  • exception handling
  • mutability/immutability
  • configuration management
  • handling of complex system states
  • testing

The book covers these topics in some detail, so if you are getting familiar with Clojure and are already trying to write programs more complex than ‘hello world’, it may be useful to you. The only limitation so far is that the book is written in Russian, and there is no translation into English yet.

In the end

Although I love reading books, most likely in the coming months I will not be able to devote enough time to this - learning a new language takes up quite a lot of time and my mental resources. Therefore, most likely I will mostly read a Finnish grammar textbook and some simplified texts for beginners like the fairy tale “The Three Little Pigs”. Also, with the coming of spring, I want to resume my regular cycling trips.

Due to all these circumstances, my next posts about books will include fewer books, or maybe I will write them less often. I haven’t decided yet. Maybe I’ll switch back to audiobooks and listen to them while cycling. I’ve done this before, but it doesn’t always work - for example, if you cycling not alone. And for sure, not all books are easy to consume by ear for me.

In any case, I will try to continue sharing my thoughts on what I read, even if it is a language textbook or simplified short stories.

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