Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin, one of my very favorite writers, passed away this week at the age of 88.

Le Guin was sometimes referred to as a really good speculative fiction author—which is wrong. She was a fantastic writer who happened to mostly write genre fiction. Her meticulously crafted imaginative work set the stage for younger writers like Michael Chabon and David Mitchell to write literary novels that include the fantastic, something readers now take for granted.

A Wizard of Earthsea was one of my first great loves in fiction of any style (though the new cover art makes me sad). The Left Hand of Darkness is really the shining example of what a good writer can accomplish only within the structure of “science fiction.” Ditto The Dispossessed. And The Lathe of Heaven.

Even her manual Steering the Craft was my favorite book on the mechanics of storytelling for many years (and was apparently extensively revised/rewritten and republished in 2015, which means I need to read it again).

What I read in 2017

Putting out my fourth annual reading list means that it’s officially a site tradition. That same year I also started really using Audible, which has been life-changing (no exaggeration) for the commute and chores like laundry. Their current signup promotion is two free audiobooks, which is awesome.

  1. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
  2. From Medicine to Mogul by Dr. Draion M. Burch (truly as bad as it sounds)
  3. The Good Creative by Paul Jarvis
  4. Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams
  5. Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach (would be a better blog post)
  6. Get Smart by Brian Tracy
  7. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  8. The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight (fun premise wears out gradually)
  9. Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez (funny, scathing view of silicon valley; great audiobook)
  10. Gateway by Frederik Pohl (awesome classic; swept every SF award back in 1978)
  11. The One Thing by Gary Keller (big bestseller but really a great one-liner that completely falls apart. Summary? Focus on one thing to get better results)
  12. The Best Small Fictions 2015 (one of the Nanoism stories I published and subsequently nominated made it into this anthology, which was awesome)
  13. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling
  14. Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson
  15. Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
  16. Deep Work by Cal Newport (literally one of the only self-help books I think is actually really worth reading. Newport is a CS professor and just gets it.)
  17. How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil
  18. Physicians: Money for Life by Dennis Postema (so bad)
  19. Spark Joy by Marie Kondo (you might be better off re-reading the original)
  20. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (The only decent treatment of the Norse canon outside of Marvel comics?)
  21. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  22. Spaceman by Mike Massimino (the audiobook is narrated by the author; being in space sounds fascinating)
  23. When the Air Hits Your Brain by Frank T. Vertosick Jr.
  24. On Writing by Stephen King
  25. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  26. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
  27. The Great Courses: Money Managing Skills by Michael Finke
  28. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty (about the mortuary business, odd stuff)
  29. Rising Sun by Michael Crichton
  30. Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
  31. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
  32. Getting Started in Consulting by Alan Weiss
  33. Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
  34. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
  35. Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein (this was what YA looked like in 1953)
  36. Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
  37. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (I thought this was an important read)
  38. Armada by Ernest Cline (fun—not as good as Ready Player One, but you could tell that going in. Wil Wheaton does a great narration on both)
  39. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic #2)
  40. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic #3—great trilogy)
  41. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (best speculative fiction writer of all time?)
  42. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman (obvious insights that yet no one implements effectively in their lives)
  43. Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling
  44. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
  45. The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt by Cory S. Fawcett
  46. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  47. 10% Happier by Dan Harris (makes you want to do a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat)
  48. White Sand by Brandon Sanderson
  49. The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right by Cory S. Fawcett
  50. Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen by people other than Stephen Colbert
  51. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  52. Practice Perfect by Erica Woolway, Doug Lemov, and Katie Yezzi
  53. The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth
  54. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (graphic novel and national book award finalist)
  55. Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer
  56. The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner
  57. Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong by Troy DuFrene and Kelly G. Wilson
  58. I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
  59. Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
  60. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
  61. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
  62. Goodbye, Things by Eriko Sugita
  63. Barbarian Lord by Matt Smith
  64. Pilot X by Tom Merritt
  65. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  66. Artemis by Andy Weir (fun—not as good as The Martian, but you could tell that going in. On the plus side, the audiobook is narrated by Rosario Dawson)
  67. Scythe by Neal Shusterman
  68. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clark (won the Hugo and Nebula back in 1973; I read this as a kid but it almost felt new again)
  69. On Power by Robert Caro
  70. The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C Clark (the space elevator! won the Hugo and Nebula back in 1979)
  71. The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement by Cory S. Fawcett
  72. Ubik by Philip K Dick (Do Android’s Dream of Electic Sheep [i.e. Bladerunner] may be Dick’s least weird book. Ubik is definitely not—it’s very very odd.)
  73. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
  74. The Mongrel Mage by L. E. Modesitt Jr. (I have a soft spot for the Recluce series and its magic of order and chaos since I started reading them as a kid. That said, his editor needs a much heavier hand. If you could Find+Replace every instance of the word “sardonic” out of the book it would instantly be pages shorter.)
  75. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday (one translated passage of ancient stoic philosophy per day for a year)

The only classics I read this year where classic SF novels from the 70s. Oops.

As a doctor who writes, I try to read most of the books written by docs for other docs. I think I’m going to stop soon.

As research for the site and my second book, I’ve also now read pretty much every book on “physician finance.” These are mostly terrible, and I hope I’m mostly done with that subgenre forever.

The self-improvement/lifestyle stuff is also mostly background for some future site writing and as a genre is really fluffy. Of the lot, Deep Work by Cal Newport was definitely my recent favorite. Even then, one of the issues with literally everything ever published in this vein is that the vast majority of it can not/does not apply to doctors (at least outside of those with substantial academic time) or anyone who is forced to bill time for money instead of creating an outcome, product, or other deliverable. Every book is really talking to creative professionals, “entrepreneurs,” and cubicle drones.

My copy of Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer just arrived, so that’s going to need to happen early in 2018 for sure.

Standard Ebooks

Standard Ebooks is an awesome long overdue idea:

Standard Ebooks is a volunteer driven, not-for-profit project that produces lovingly formatted, open source, and free public domain ebooks.

Ebook projects like Project Gutenberg transcribe ebooks and make them available for the widest number of reading devices. Standard Ebooks takes ebooks from sources like Project Gutenberg, formats and typesets them using a carefully designed and professional-grade style guide, lightly modernizes them, fully proofreads and corrects them, and then builds them to take advantage of state-of-the-art ereader and browser technology.

What a great project.

What I read in 2016

The little one is a bit older and I had marginally less call this year, but I also had to take the boards in June, so reading time definitely benefitted from the flexibility of ebooks on the phone and the magical powers of Audible. Overall, it was a better reading year than 2015.

  1. The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth (fun language romp)
  2. Stoner by John Williams (quiet, understated, lovely)
  3. The Buddha Walks into a Bar by Lodro Rinzler
  4. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (of course I cried)
  5. Corsair by James L. Cambias
  6. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (Pulitzer winner)
  7. The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein (1970s sci-fi, not the band)
  8. The Bogleheads Guide to Investing by Mel Lindauer, Taylor Larimore, and Michael LeBoeuf
  9. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  10. The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal
  11. Calamity by Brandon Sanderson (The Reckoners #3)
  12. Medical School 2.0 by David Larson
  13. Pay Yourself First by David Hurd and James Hemphill
  14. Changing Outcomes by David Hurd and James Hemphill
  15. The Cartel by Don Winslow (incredibly gruesome but so good)
  16. Physician Finance by KM Awad
  17. A Doctor’s Basic Business Handbook by Brandon Bushnell
  18. The Year They Tried to Kill Me by Salvatore Iaquinta (to me, the new House of God)
  19. So You Got Into Medical School…Now What? By Daniel Paull
  20. Why Medicine? By Sujay Kusagra
  21. Broadcasting Happiness by Michelle Gielan
  22. Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg
  23. The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (Wax & Wayne #1)
  24. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  25. Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley (audiobook perfectly narrated by John Hodgman)
  26. The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  27. My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman
  28. What They Don’t Teach You at Medical School by Dr. David Kashmer (still feel like that’s the wrong preposition in the title…)
  29. What if? by Randall Munroe
  30. Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson (Wax & Wayne #2)
  31. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (so depressing)
  32. A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton (this was surprisingly fun)
  33. The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart (apparently earthworms are really important)
  34. Drinking Water by James Salzman (really wanted this to be like Kurlansky’s Salt or Cod, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good)
  35. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  36. The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel
  37. Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald
  38. The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson (long before we demoted Pluto, we used to think there was a hidden planet Vulcan. Weird!)
  39. Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang
  40. The House of Wigs by Joshua Allen
  41. The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (Wax & Wayne #3)
  42. The Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (well-deserved Pulitzer winner)
  43. Bricking It by Nick Spalding
  44. The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (between the two, Emperor is better)
  45. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling
  46. The Element by Ken Robinson
  47. The Thirteen Word Retirement Plan by Stephen Nelson
  48. Student Loan Debt 101 by Adam Minsky
  49. The 4 Percent Universe by Richard Panek
  50. Simple Sabotage by Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch, and Cary Greene (the pdf of the CIA’s declassified original field manual that inspired it is better).
  51. As You Wish by Cary Elwes
  52. Mistborn: Secret History by Brandon Sanderson
  53. The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Huge winner, great novella)
  54. The Medical Entrepreneur by Steven M. Hacker
  55. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
  56. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
  57. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (just lovely)
  58. Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson
  59. The Wealth of Humans by Ryan Avent (smart writing about technological innovation and societal change)
  60. TED Talks by Chris Anderson
  61. Medium Raw by Anthony Bordain
  62. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  63. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (was really great as an audiobook)
  64. How to Think About Money by Jonathan Clements
  65. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  66. Ready Player One by Earnest Cline (fun homage to classic video games and 80s culture masquerading as a novel)
  67. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Classics I visited included a Tale of Two Cities, The Jungle, and Animal Farm, which were all super depressing. I continue to wonder why I read any of the pop-psych/inspirational/self-help type books given that they are all approximately the same and should nearly always be an essay or two and not drawn out to book length. I also read a bunch of short finance, med student, and doctor books for research/blog purposes, which were almost all meh.

On the fun side, I did catch up on most of Brandon Sanderson’s books while waiting for Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin to finish their next books. Now I have to wait for Sanderson’s third Stormlight book as well, which won’t come out for another year (and the last book in Mistborn Era 2 is like two years away).

Did love The Alchemist though. Just a beautiful, lovely little story. And every doctor should read The Emperor of Maladies.