I enjoyed publishing some thoughts on my reading list from 2017 at the end of last year, and wanted to continue the tradition in 2018. I think my blend moved more toward nonfiction this year, which I’ll blame on getting a ton of good recommendations through work. Stripe is an amazing place to build an impossibly large reading list.
I didn’t quite hit my goal of 20 books this year, but feel good about the material I did get through this year. If I had to pick, I think Men, Machines, and Modern Times, Democratizing Innovation, The Score Takes Care of Itself, and Sculpting in Time were my favorites of the year. I’ve left some notes on these books (and more!) in ascending order of completion below:
At the start of 2017 I, feeling a little unproductive, defined a set of goals which I’d try to achieve by the end of the year. It was around this time that I, feeling a little unhappy in my job, started looking at other places to work. While I was investigating the culture and history of Stripe (which I ultimately joined) one very common theme was how voracious of a reader its CEO Patrick was.
Reflecting on the meager list of books I’d completed in 2016, I realized that my own reading pace had dwindled over the years. Back when I commuted to Mountain View from SF, I generally had multiple hours per day to read. That became maybe 40 minutes each day when I started taking Muni to work downtown. When Twitter moved its office to within walking distance I basically stopped entirely, not making up in reading the time I was gaining from a shorter commute. I missed the depth I felt that I got from reading books and figured the best way to bring that back was to construct a goal of reading a specific quantity this year.
The premise for Luis Buñuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is that a group of socialites are unable to leave a parlor following a dinner party. This is about as much as I knew going into it, which was exciting, since the premise works better that way.
I figure that if you’re going to keep people in a room there’s a few ways it can go. The most obvious is that the room is literally locked or blocked off and those folks need to escape it physically. In this case that seemed unlikely, mostly because the movie is named The Exterminating Angel and that would be a pretty bad name for a movie about a locked room.
Akira Kurosawa’s THRONE OF BLOOD (as I like to think of it, Michael Fassbender’s favorite Macbeth) is a meticulous, engrossing, and beautiful work. It was created at a time in 1957 where cinema still had a great deal of constraints, but also at a time where Kurosawa had honed his square-frame black-and-white film technique to perfection. There are shots in Throne of Blood which I haven’t seen done with as much skill and artistry in any other film.
This IMDB review of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s THE HOLY MOUNTAIN says “If you liked ‘The Wall’ (you know, the Pink Floyd movie), but thought it was a bit of a downer and suffered from the lack of a fat woman humping an excitable, legless, animatronic horse, this movie could be for you” which may be a little flip but not entirely wrong description of what to expect from this film.
Oh boy, SUSPIRIA. A prime example of the “cheesy horror movies so well crafted that they can be considered art films” genre. I can’t even remember what first added it to my queue, but I do remember seeing references to it in a crazy 2010 playthough of the SNES game Clock Tower which led me to the following reasoning:
There’s a point early on in Andrei Tarkovsky’s STALKER where the Stalker, the Professor, and the Writer have snuck past a military blockade, dodged bullets and ridden a railway work car for a few silent minutes of screen time. The film switches from sepia to color - they have entered The Zone, a mysterious alien-touched segment of the world. “We are home” Stalker says. “It is so quiet out here, it is the quietest place in the world.”
A little while ago I read this great article on the cinematic influences of the game Kentucky Route Zero, which got me thinking that I should be expanding my exposure to and ability to talk about film, particularly with regard to influencing work on Moonshot or other creative projects. So I’m starting an informal Cinema Club (think Book Club) and hope to write a bit about the films I watch and what I took away from them.
At some point I overheard Buster (my PM on analytics.twitter.com) raving about Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books. I was intrigued without knowing too much and dove into Black Swan (even though Buster recommended Antifragile as his favorite) because I wanted to see what the deal was.
Racing the Beam is kind of like a biography for the Atari systems and their unique underlying circuit design. Actually, it’s kind of like one of those band documentaries where the band is already established so you just follow them around and see their interactions with common folk. Eventually there’s some scene where a band member blows up or throws a tantrum and probably didn’t mean anything at the time but foreshadows the band’s eventual downfall/breakup and so forth.
I picked up Post Office by Charles Bukowski at Booksmith because one of the shelves claimed it was hilarious and because I hadn’t read anything relaxed and just funny in a while. I had heard of Bukowski before but wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything beyond that he had a hand in writing Barfly, a movie starring Mickey Rourke which I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.
Is there a formal name for the idea that someone is mostly the sum of their external influences? So much of my day-to-day depends on what movies I’ve watched, which books I’ve read, and what music I’ve listened to. And that’s not entirely because the Twitter Developer Relations team is a hodgepodge of cosmopolitan folks and the references fly fast and furious in our work area, but because everything is so culturally interconnected nowadays.