Professional Update: July 2018

set of old mobile phones, from largest to smallest

Since selling Pencilneck Software two years ago, I’ve very much enjoyed my time since then, spending more time with the kids, and running Codegnostic, my fractional-CTO consulting company. I’ll forever relish the opportunity of these past two years to be more involved with school and kid activities on the personal side, and the work on organizational change, growth and process improvement on the professional side. But nothing stays the same, and this is true for me too.

I’m extremely excited to announce that I’m joining TELUS Digital in the role of Senior Technology Architect, starting tomorrow, July 3rd. This role looks to be a really exciting & challenging extension/deep-dive on the work I’ve spent much of this decade doing on the technical management side, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to do this at a large and rapidly-growing organization.

Podcast Radio Station

Radio City Music Hall

One of my favourite CBC shows is Podcast Playlist, which is a weekly, curated show where Matt Galloway & Lindsay Michael sample a set of podcasts, around a particular theme. They play excerpts, or whole episodes depending on length, and talk about why they have included it.

Related, much to my surprise, one of my favourite [ed: counterpoint] developments in media are these post-show discussion shows (Talking Dead, Talks Machina, After the Thrones). I should note that some of these shows are terrible, some are good. The better ones tend to be web, rather than network, and more free-flowing. They’re also all universally too long.

Whether web-based/digital or, my ideal, an honest-to-goodness terrestrial radio station, would combine these into a thrilling, diverse and interesting talk-format discovery station. With programming divided up throughout the day/week, with curated hosts, and re-broadcasting entire podcast episodes, it re-invents the incredibly tired call-in-and-rant structure of current talk radio. It also offers a chance for different new revenue streams for podcast creators (who, in my idea, are of course compensated for all re-broadcasts & take some share of advertising revenue).

Let’s say you divide each day into 4-hr segments, where hour 3 (or maybe just the last 0.5 hr) is the “discussion of what you just heard” segment, ideally including one or more of the podcast creators you were just listening to, and allowing inbound contribution via phone/text/whatever (like any call-in show).

If there were regular, recurring scheduled themes, I’d tune in for topics that interest me. For serial podcasts, like Serial, this offers an opportunity to have a scheduled broadcast over several weeks. Some would be one-offs, and some regulars for weeks or months at a time.

Last-minute thought: In many ways, this is the model CBC Radio 1 already has. Most of the shows are essentially podcasts (Q, Under the Influence, Ideas, Quirks & Quarks, Spark – the lines between regular radio-show and podcast are very blurry) already, intermixed with news/current event shows. The key difference, I think, is an expectation that the station is curating other people’s content, as well as probably producing their own. For a broadcaster like CBC, with a mandate to support Canadian culture, this could be a really interesting new station, pushing out Canadian podcasts to the world.

My 5 Favourite songs about New York City

Cabs near times square

These aren’t “the best”, just ones I like. And I’m pretty-much ignoring hip-hop/soul here, because that is a real void in my musical knowledge. The impetus was listening to the first one, and thinking about other tracks I keep coming back to.

1. Gil Scott-Heron “New York City”

This album was my intro to Gil Scott-Heron. I’m pretty sure I found it amongst my uncle’s album collection as a kid while visiting. It was on a mix-tape I made from his collection, and I played that cassette until a dying Walkman destroyed nearly a decade later.

2. Cub “New York City”

Vancouver’s own Cub. You may know this song from They Might Be Giants’ cover, but this is the original. It is perfect pop-punk.

3. LCD Soundsystem “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me down”

(NB: pretty sure that’s not an official video, but how could you not love it?) This song is also peak LCD Soundsystem.

4. Lou Reed “Walk on the Wild Side”

Could any list about NYC music not contain a Lou Reed song? I probably could have chosen any number by him. But this, while an obvious choice, is the soundtrack of when I think about the New York that was.

5. Leonard Cohen “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”

Like Lou Reed’s track, this is a hymn to what was, only from the singer’s viewpoint, a leisurely look back to days long gone.

Honourable Mention – Ryan Adams “New York, New York”

This song, with the lyric “hell I still love you New York” was ubiquitous in the wake the of September 11th, 2001 (the video was shot apparently just days before). I had to put it down for a while because of that, but I’ve recently been rediscovering Ryan Adams, and this song along with it.

Albums of the year – 2017

Trees in Pacific Spirit Park

[note: you can see my previous editions in the Albums of the year tag – also, I’ve embedded the playlist (of a top 20, but I won’t discuss them all, below].

So, like other years, here’s the top 10, in alphabetical order by artist.

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

I really wasn’t sold on this album on first listen. It came out while we were in Germany, so got a lot of play in the car…and, well, nothing really stood out. But then I saw them in concert this fall & I got it. This is a live album. The songs, all fine in headphones, suddenly come to life in concert. Playing them loud on a good system is also rewarding as there’s a lot of depth and subtleties to the tracks. It quickly went from an also-ran to an absolute favourite this year.

Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

Perhaps the most achingly personal album of the year. Julien Baker’s songs of ache, longing and defiance as she deals with the fallout from (if I understand correctly) turning to sobriety is both sad, gut-wrenching and incredibly powerful. Weirdly, despite the material, I find it  a hopeful album. Defiance in face of terribleness that really suited 2017. It’s a turn-out-the-lights (oh, i see now!), put-on-the-headphones and just dive into this incredible world kind of album.

Beach Fossils – Somersault

This album is a departure, growth even for this band. Long a jangly-indie-pop outfit that to me always felt a bit like a poor-man’s Real Estate, this album features lusher arrangements and a growth in instrumentation. This makes for better songwriting and thoroughly enjoyable, if perhaps safe, record. This album really grew on me through the year, after my initial uncertainty.

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Kendrick’s second time on my best-of-year list, and, the second rap album since Madvillainy to end up on endless repeat for me. I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t been better said elsewhere, but after the importance of To Pimp a Butterfly, how amazing to watch this artist turn inwards and produce perhaps an even better album.

Lorde – Melodrama

Pop perfection. Amazing lyrics. Stunning production. My guess is this is one of 3 albums (DAMN. & Sleep Well Beast being the others) that will remain in heavy rotation for years to come.

The National – Sleep Well Beast

I wasn’t sure what this album would be like – after their last, the band sort of dispersed and pull out side projects including producing (and contributing to) the amazing Day of the Dead Grateful Dead covers album. And it turns out that they came back refreshed, willing to experiment with new sounds and time signatures and just knock it out of the park. It’s an uneven album, but where it works, it really, really works.

Slowdive – Slowdive

Well, they’re back! and.. and it is really, really great! It should probably be noted that either you like shoegaze or you don’t, but this is both classic Slowdive and perfectly of the moment.

St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION

New York is probably my favourite track of the year. I don’t know if it is about David Bowie, but it is who I think about whenever I play this song. A long time ago, I wrote about using music to find focus, and last year I got around to making a 5-song playlist that I update from time-to-time with music I want to hear over again that helps with this. That track was added this year. The rest of the album is pretty great too. She’s high on my must-see list, but somehow, never tours where I am. One day!

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

The most fun album of my set this year. So much going on. Club-ready tracks with a memoirist’s eye for detail in the lyrics, there’s something for everyone here – shut up and dance, or sit down with headphones and really focus.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

I’m not sure anyone in rock spends as much time on production as The War on Drugs. Sumptuous, lush, ephemeral, fuzzy – all words I’ve variously used to describe this album. I love to put this on and just kind of float off on the music.

 

 

 

 

My leadership principles

The path not taken

I’ve evolved my approaches to team-leadership over the years (as to be expected), but I’m not sure I’ve ever sought to explicitly write down a These Things I Hold To Be True. Many of these are fairly office-directed, but most apply to my approach when I’m team captain or kids’ coach too.

While writing this, I realized how much of what I consider to be important leadership activities are not things that come naturally to me, but are rather trained skills that I work at consistently. So please consider this a living document too: I’m always looking to improve both this and myself.

  • A successful leader creates more leaders. Remember you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. You don’t become a leader just because of your skills, but also everyone’s around you. Your teachers, your mentors, your peers, your reports – they all help make you a leader. Respect that continuum and play your part to carry it on.
  • Expect to learn from those you lead. This builds on the first idea, but is more explicit. Just because you’re in charge, doesn’t mean that you’re right, or that you always know better. Ask questions. Be curious. Respect opinions. Corollary is to try to hire people who have something to teach you, whether those are hard or soft skills.
  • Facilitate independence. Don’t be a roadblock for your team. Create structure and process that lets your team explore on their own. Encourage decision-making & independent thought. Provide scaffolding for them to stand on while they work. Be a safety net (or rope-and-harness?) if they fall. Transparent, living documentation of process & procedure is good for all.
  • Do the things that don’t scale. Alternate: sweat the small stuff. Remember birthdays. Remember family names. Ensure the pens work. Have the one-on-ones. Make sure the environment is solid. Clean the white board. Show up a little early to the meeting to make sure there’s water, chairs, whatever. If someone mentions something in an off-hand comment, follow up. Pay attention.
  • Own your team’s failures. When something goes wrong (and it will!), take ownership. Don’t pass blame down the line. Be the shield for your reports. Within your team, don’t point fingers. Post-mortems are your friend. Understand what went wrong, and look for how to prevent that in the future.
  • Let your team own their victories. This is the corollary of the last item. Chances are you’ve had plenty of opportunity to shine on your way up. Step aside, let them accept credit. Better yet, go out of your way to give credit to your team-members publicly for their effort. Related to this: celebrate milestones.
  • Be decisive. You need to be ready to make the call when asked. Or step in when something isn’t working. Do your homework, read up, be ready. Trust your instincts. Remember that *most* decisions are reversible. Be ready to provide a path, a solution, or just an affirmation when needed.
  • Be deliberate. A corollary of the previous point: sometimes, a decision is paradigm-shifting –  *not* reversible. So take the time you need, but be firm and committed to the path chosen.
  • Practice and encourage self-care. Your manner, your tone, your emotional state has an outsized effect on your team. If you want your team to be their best selves, do what you need to be your best self. Demonstrate this so your team knows it is ok when they need to do it.
  • Experience the front-line. Participate in pager duty and answer support calls. Push code. Whatever the most junior among you, or the most publicly-exposed experience, make sure you have a reasonable understanding of their day-to-day.
  • Advocate for the Customer. That customer could be yourself, a client, another department, whatever. Chances are your team is delivering something to someone. Be the voice for the customer internally. Talk to the actual customer. Keep the relationship between your team and the customer healthy.
  • Earn your team’s trust every day. Listen actively. Believe, and believe in your team. Be right. Be focused. Be honest. Be self-critical. Be ethical. Default to openness. Give trust. Support your team-member when they need it.
  • Embrace Constraints. It is almost always worth figuring how to do more with less. Optimize where possible. Lean on limitations to see where they lead you. Create limits and boundaries where they are otherwise unclear in order to provide direction & guidance.
  • Confront your bias. You’re human. You have blindspots. You have biases. Keep these in mind. Build a team that helps you reduce, confront and account for these. Find mentors, peers, advisors to explicitly work on these.
  • Fight Culture-fit. This both seems counter-intuitive and oppositional. But “culture-fit”  is a step on the path to homogeneity. Diversity of people leads to diversity of opinion & thought. It leads to better compromise and outcomes. Culture-fit is not the same as team fit. The former is an ephemeral, subjective judgement of person. The latter is a quantifiable, objective judgement of skill, role, expectation.

Community Amenities in Vancouver

Liam in his waterpolo cap

I’ve been peripherally involved with the use & planning of Community Amenities in Vancouver for a long time – by being politically involved with the Park Board;as a both a participant and board member for the Vancouver Ultimate League; as a parent of a kid in Vancouver Thunderbirds Hockey; as parent of a kid in Vancouver Vipers waterpolo; and as a parent of a kid in Vancouver United FC Soccer. And, there’s a few things (that are probably in some ways obvious, but let us be explicit here) to note about doing all this in Vancouver. Let’s of course be clear that this is all anecdotal based on my experience and limited conversations with other families.

  1. With the exception of my experience as an ultimate player, community sports is heavily weighted towards the periphery of the city: rinks, pools, courts, fields are all generally on the western & eastern edges of the city. If you live in the centre, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fairly lengthy commute. It is sort of the inverse of the home-job principle.
  2. There are not enough playing-surface resources in the city of Vancouver compared to the number of participants. Ultimate, which has the *most* fields, because of the surfaces they’re willing to use, probably has this best. But it is still not enough. In my experience, from least available to most, it is probably: pools, quality fields, rinks, flat(ish) grass surfaces. I don’t know about baseball, but from the outside, it looks like each “area” has a really nice-looking “home” field where stuff happens.
  3. UBC is a terrible community partner. Each association I’ve been part of has been “forced” to use UBC’s fields/rinks/pools because there’s not enough in Vancouver, but each association complains bitterly about how expensive renting UBC’s facilities are. I’m not entirely sure of the justification for this, outside of free-market economics (supply v demand), but it sucks.
  4. The lack of playing surfaces leads to some pretty crazy scheduling decisions by the related associations. In practice, this has meant my elementary-aged kids are doing sports both SUPER early in the am (which generally sucks more for the parents) – as early as 6:15am Sunday in my experience – and also SUPER late at night – as late as 10:30pm Friday in my experience. Perhaps not surprisingly, this leads to some drop-off in participation.
  5. Compared to kids in related associations in the suburbs, Vancouver kids have way less access & time to their chosen sport. At younger ages, this has translated primarily to my being jealous of how little other parents are paying per hour-of-activity. At older ages (let’s say 10+) this tends to translate directly into a lack of competitiveness. In each sport I’ve participated in, as a general rule, suburban teams play at a higher level than Vancouver-based ones. Beyond that, we’ve seen several Vancouver families move their children, if not their actual domicile, out to be part of suburban associations just to give their kids access to higher compete levels.
  6. At an association level, these constraints put incredible pressure on the few paid staff & mostly volunteer organizers. I’ve sat in on several board meetings, AGMs and ad-hoc parent meetings where participants and/or parents complain about fees, ever-reducing availability of activity-time, and so on. And, at the core, the answer is always the same: the association is making awful trade-offs between allowing access to participate vs cost vs scheduling. These are generally pretty committed fans of the activity, and the wear on them shows.

So, what can be done?

Real Estate pricing in Vancouver means we are pretty unlikely to find large tracts of land in the city centre (increasingly, anywhere) to build new pools/rinks/fields. As far as I know, developers are not incentivized to build these sorts of community-centre amenities alongside developments. While I’ve always been a big fan of the existence of our park board, I increasingly wonder if it being distinct from city council really just lets council punt community amenity discussion out of “prime” discussions, to somewhere no one really cares about (if you’re to judge by average number of votes it takes to win a seat come election time).

I don’t have answers, but do have some things I wonder about:

  1. Could/should the city strike some sort of deal with UBC to allow community groups access to UBC facilities at a deal closer to what they pay for city amenities? What if the city bought all the available slots at UBC and then re-apportioned them via the existing city model? I don’t know enough about the political/fiscal relationship between Vancouver & UBC to know how possible that might be. If only from an operational/staffing view, a single purchase-source would be good.
  2. The Park Board’s operational & capital plans are being set for the future. Much like the issue with class-sizes & schools, they strike me as being planned for what’s there now (and not nearly enough), not what is coming in the future, regarding population size. But, I recognize they’re incredibly resource-constrained (both budgetary & physically). I don’t know what the answer is to that, outside of investment from perhaps all 3 levels of government & private enterprise. I’ve been historically averse to having corporate sponsors of community amenities, but if that would, say, double the available pools & rinks and/or cut costs by some significant %, maybe it would be worth it.
  3. Open up school resources more, including private schools, perhaps via the same methods as with UBC. Ontario’s LCBO gets good deals on booze by being (I think) the world’s largest single buyer of alcohol. Why couldn’t the city of Vancouver do that for space on behalf of the residents, and let associations just have one source, at, hopefully, lower costs, rather than various small associations all competing with each other across various sources?

 

Quick Thoughts on the new MacBook Pro (with touchbar)

After 5 years of service, my trusty, much-loved iMac died suddenly (and of course, in the middle of trying to meet a crazy deadline). We also had a 5-year old MacBook Pro in the house – the family computer, and my backup computer.

Because I work from home (which means I work from coffee shops, and other people’s offices, it made sense to replace the iMac with a laptop). After briefly flirting with the idea of a) switching to windows and b) getting a refurbished older MacBook, I took the plunge and ordered the brand-spanking new MacBook Pro 15″ with Touchbar (I need a shorthand for that. TouchBook? MBPT? Ehhh). This new system, like all first-generation Apple products, has not been without its issues.

Following personal priorities, I ordered a version with the 2.9 GHz quad-core i7 CPU, Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB, and the standard 500GB HDD (my rules: always max-out CPU/GPU capabilities on a laptop, deal with everything else). I’ve had the system for about 8 hours, so these are all early impressions:

The Good

  • The screen! Oh, the screen. It is so, so lovely. I’m somewhat colourblind, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see the new color range, but I can absolutely, 100% see the difference, particularly when looking at my photos. It’s one of those “it’s hard to describe but you’ll know it when you see it” differences.
  • The keyboard. My favourite-ever OS-X era Mac keyboard. So clicky! It feels much like an old-school mechanical keyboard, despite very clearly being not at all.
  • Can run ALL THE THINGS. I usually am working with several VMs. On the old iMac, I would regularly run out of RAM, so I’d habitually spin up a VM, work, shut it down when done and move to the next project, spin it up, etc. Doubling the RAM has made that unnecessary – I’ve currently got 4 VMs up and running for my current projects. With all those running, I could still play Civ VI without the system breaking a sweat.
  • Games: I don’t do a lot of graphics work, apart from photo-editing and the occasional video. But! I do play games. I played both Civ VI and Cities: Skylines last night, and was able to play *both* in “High Performance” mode, for the first time ever on a mac. It was so lovely!
  • Touchbar: TouchID makes virtually every issue ok. Interestingly, it would appear that the “needs admin password” is not some sort of “core” system, because, while anytime an Apple app asks for it, I can use TouchID, I couldn’t, for instance, use TouchID to give Adobe permission to install Lightroom. As apps update, touchID will just become better and better. But 1Password + TouchID is everything. I’ve just started customizing the touchbar, and I think that as I do that, I’ll come to like it more and more.

The Bad

  • Touchpad: It’s too. damn. big. It feels weird. I keep getting issues from my palms touching it while I type. Because it is so big, I have to retrain some gestures that expect me to use the whole space: 4-finger pinch, swipe from edge, etc. I’m also not a fan of how it “clicks” – this is similar to my issues with the new home button on the iPhone 7 – they both are in the “uncanny valley” of clicking for me, that somehow makes them feel cheap and plastic, not nice and solid.
  • Touchbar: I know, I know, I liked it. But – I keep accidentally tapping it with my fingers and having weird things happen – in particular the escape button. Also, I sure wish that the touchbar provided haptic feedback so it felt like I was clicking on something, rather than brushing against it.
  • RAM: I know I just said above that it could do all the things. But given that 16GB is the “currently comfortable amount” of RAM I need to do my work, I worry greatly that this will artificially limit the lifespan of the computer to 2-3 years, instead of the 5-6 I’m hoping for.
  • Buggy: I’ve already had to restart the computer twice because of weird issues: The first time, all of a sudden the system was no longer recording clicks within app windows. Anything outside worked, but not within. The second time the keyboard just stopped working. couldn’t type anything. Super weird. All things that can be fixed via OS Updates, but annoying. I’m used to not restarting my macs for months on end, not every day.

Review: Wolf Parade and The Pack AD at The Imperial

Some seven years after the last time I saw them, I went with Leah to see Wolf Parade at the Imperial last night. &, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

But let’s start with the Pack AD, who’re amazing, impeccable and can rock. I’m pretty sure I saw them a long time ago when they were participating in Shindig (maybe 2007? so after I was there every week, but before I stopped going entirely). I have a personal fondness for the stripped-down sounds of a guitar-drum two-piece. Add in serious vocal chops and yeah – just see the Pack AD if you enjoy garage rock, at all. There’s a line in their official bio that is pretty perfect, and true:

the Pack A.D. have owned every spotlight and stolen every show they’ve ever played. Becky and Maya are relentless and riveting, playing with the kind of fuck-off freedom that makes everybody in the room vicarious rock stars, even if it’s just for the night.

Wolf Parade is really a tale of two bands: Spencer Krug’s Wolf Parade, and Dan Boeckner’s Wolf Parade. And they really are two bands dressed up at once explains why still, some seven years later, the same line still applies – they don’t really know how to run a concert. There’s awkward silences (they had technical difficulties tonight as well), for most of the night there didn’t seem to be a lot of joy on stage, and while no one can fault their musicianship, they didn’t seem particularly tight for a band that’s been around as long as they have (even given their long hiatus).

Songs that Spencer (keyboards) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are synth/keyboards-driven melodic garage pop. They are ambitious, involve everyone in the band, are lyrically more diverse. Songs that Dan (guitar) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are straight-up guitar-driven guitar rock. Both are excellent – but different. I definitely have a preference, based on last night’s show, on Spencer’s version of the band (at the same time, it wouldn’t be nearly as good a band, or show, if it was just his stuff). Everyone seemed more involved, more together on those songs. Perhaps they are more difficult to play? Not sure.

It’s worth noting that by the end of the night, they’d really come together. What was a really rough start was totally put aside by their finale, an amazing, long, high-energy jam to end the night. It was the first time all night I saw Dan and Spencer looking at each other, smiling, playing with each other. If that’s the band that’ll show up the next couple of nights (this was the first of 3 shows at the Imperial this week), everyone else is in for a real treat.

La La Land: a sort-of review

Griffith Observatory

I watched La La Land just over a week ago, and have gone through a sort of evolution in my thinking about it:

  1. During the movie, i was fully in love with it. The cinematography, the acting, the music, the decoration.
  2. Then it ended. That Ending! I really wasn’t sure what I thought about it.
  3. Walking out, chatting with Leah, I absolutely loved the movie again – it was chipper and light and lovely and everything I’d wanted in the movie when I was walking into it: it met – and exceeded – all my expectations.
  4. Over the week, I kept thinking about the movie, and, slowly, a comparison came to me. Have you ever seen the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the SameIf you haven’t, don’t. If you’re not a Led Zeppelin fan, there’s no reason to. If you are, don’t: nothing destroys your heroes like humanizing them. However, I think there’s a lot of similarities between some principals at play. The Song Remains the Same is a display of musical virtuosity: Musicians at their best, knowing this, and playing with that fact. It is both stunning, amazing and worst kind of Music-God onanism – guitar solos, drum solos, weird “ahh”ing vocal solos.
    La La Land is that. Damien Chazzelle is Really. Really. Good – and he knows it. And this film is film-making wankery at its very worst. It is so self-knowning, and winking and mannered. So yes, it is amazing and wonderful to watch – in the moment – but, like unnecessary guitar solos, afterwards, it leaves you annoyed.
  5. It strikes me (now) as incredibly sexist: Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), careens through this film, ending up getting almost exactly what he wanted at the beginning of the film. While he ostensibly takes actions for Mia (Emma Stone), he still never sacrifices for him. Both he and Mia are performers, and yet, somehow, he never once sees her perform, while her story arc is continuously informed and catalyzed by her watching him perform. She has to give so much of herself – to him, to her career – and he doesn’t really give anything. Even his so-called sacrifice (taking a job he doesn’t really want so she’ll see him as a success), is wildly successful, and leads directly to him reaching his own goals.
  6. Still though, that ending.  I could probably watch that end-sequence 100s of times, never tire of it, never not see/think something slightly different. Even as I write, I both hated and loved the ending, and, following on from that, everything that precedes it.

2016 — my year in books

Liam reads an Elephant & Piggie book to Kellan

I made a New Years’ resolution in 2016 to diversify my reading — not by genre, but by author. I had realized that in 2015, of 26 books that I read, 22 were written by white men — an astounding 85%. So I had a goal to flip that percentage in 2016. Here’s how I did, in a quick summary of books:

  1. Golden Fool (The Tawny Man Trilogy #2), by Robin Hobb
    I love everything by Robin Hobb, and have loved every page of now 8 Fitz books by her. They’re true page-turners in the best meaning of that.
  2. Brooklyn, by Colm Toíbín
    I hated this book. I read it because of reviews and the movie (which I also hated) … and I should’ve stopped about 20 pages in, but I just kept reading, alternately to see whether it would redeem itself (no) or what it felt like to hate-read an entire book (not good).
  3. Fool’s Assassin (Fitz & the Fool #1), by Robin Hobb
    This new series, set when Fitz is much older, is heart-breaking for fans of the series and so, so good.
  4. Fool’s Quest (Fitz & the Fool #2), by Robin Hobb
    See above.
  5. A Man In Love (My Struggle #2), by Karl Ove Knausgård
    If my darkest inner voices were given public attention, perhaps they might sound like this. It is brutal honesty (although fictional? maybe? I hope? A devastating book.
  6. A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab
    So! Much! Fun! I don’t know why I didn’t immediately get the next one in the series, except that I wanted to let Kell ruminate in my mind for a while, this was such a lovely tale.
  7. The Hidden Oracle (Trials of Apollo #1), by Rick Riordan
    So, I’ve read all of the various Percy Jackson-related books to, and with the kids, so I got this one too — and the magic is gone, and Liam didn’t care and I regret reading this.
  8. Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2), by Ann Leckie
    Onto book two, where the gender-fuck of the first book has become normalized and the characters, story and setting can truly shine. This is my favourite of the series.
  9. The Fifth Season (Broken Earth #1), by N. K. Jemisin
    An amazing, different take on magic in a dystopian (future?) society. Possibly my favourite book of the entire year.
  10. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
    The buzziest book I read all year (an Oprah bookclub selection!) that totally held up despite the hype. I loved the magic-realism of the device of a real underground railroad, and it was heartbreaking and hard and beautiful. Contains the most gut-wrenching sentence I read all year (which, for spoiler reasons, I won’t share).
  11. The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2), by N. K. Jemisin
    Not quite as good as The Fifth Season as it normalizes into a fairly standard fantasy/odyssey book, but still well-worth the journey if you love the characters as I do.
  12. Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3), by Ann Leckie
    Read this as a meditation on the a nature of identity and empathy and, well, yeah. There’s so much going on in this book, in this series. It should probably be the subject of several academic think-pieces.
  13. The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
    I needed a Neil fix, and was getting on a plane, and this did the trick (It’s a solid habit to read one book by Neil Gaiman every single year, IMO). It’s all over the place. The best thing though is his unabashed love of Books, in all their forms, and the humans who write them. I added a dozen books, by a dozen authors, to my wishlist from reading this (NB: I’m still reading this. I have read a few sections between each of the rest of the books this year).
  14. A Heart so White, by Javier Marías (Translated by Margaret Jull Costa)
    I struggled mightily with this book — It came highly recommended by my mum, who rarely is wrong about these things, and, much like reading Shakespeare, it takes a while to wrap your head around the language and format, but once I did, wow! I read it nearly twice over.
  15. Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1), by Dianna Wynne Jones
    Silly, simple fun. Ends before I was ready for it, but also definitely felt a little dated.
  16. Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse #6), by James S. A. Corey
    The best entry in the series since book 3. Either you love The Expanse, or you haven’t read it yet.
  17. The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1), by Ken Liu
    I learned of Ken Liu through reading Cixin Liu, and, am so much the richer for it. This book deserves all the accolades it received, but, it took me a while to get through it, as I didn’t get fully into until about 100 pages in.
  18. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1), by Becky Chambers
    This book is sci-fi equivalent of a Belle & Sebastian album. It is lovely and twee, and not quite what I hoped it was. That being said, I immediately started reading the follow-up, so there you go.
  19. A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2), by Becky Chambers
    The first book in the series was self-published — I don’t know if this one was, but it feels so much tighter that I wonder if it at least a new, better editor was found. A similar feel to the first one, only moreso, in all the right ways.

I fell way short of my goal for reading this year — I was aiming for 40 books, and didn’t even crack 20. Of 19, 6 were written by men, or 32% — which also fell way short of my goal of reading only 10% white men. But, a definite improvement over my previous habits. Noticeably, when browsing the Kobo store, the recommended books are much more diverse in authorship than they were prior to this.
I’m hoping for follow-ups from Robin Hobb, V. E. Schwab, N. K. Jemisin & Ken Liu this year, and will continue to try and diversify who I’m reading.