January Reads

My goal is to share a few book notes every month. I like to quote, markup and refer back to books, so selfishly, this helps me remember what I read. It’s generally a mix of non-fiction and fiction. If you find it useful, let me know!

The Design of Everyday Things

Donald A. Norman

DOET

There are lots of ways for a designer to deal with error. The critical thing, however, is to approach the topic with the proper philosophy. The designer shouldn’t think of a simple dichotomy between errors and correct behaviour; rather, the entire interaction should be treated as a cooperative endeavour between person and machine, one in which misconceptions can arise on either side.

Over the holidays, I re-read the first design book I ever bought. My copy is from 1999 – I’m almost at 20 years of studying design! And I still feel like I’m learning :) The Design of Everyday Things is one of the foundational texts in the UX world, even though the examples are old and dated. The principles stand the test of time – affordances, constraints, visibility, mapping, feedback and designing are still critical to think about. This classic book reminds me why I do what I do, and I’m grateful that I’m still in this field and learning everyday.

Letters from a Stoic

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Translation by Robin Campbell

LettersStoic

There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Letters from a Stoic is a compilation of letters Seneca wrote about 2,000 years ago to a friend. Seneca is considered one of the key figures in the Stoic school of philosophy, along with Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. Seneca wrote most of these letters towards the end of his life, while he was ill and resting in his country home. The letters are reflective and delve into topics that are remarkably still relevant today – things like health, learning, travel, gossip, work and dealing with people. Who doesn’t deal with some of these things every day? Some ideas, such as Seneca’s attitudes towards women, I had to laugh at, and be grateful for how far we’ve come with those ideas. Stoicism is a personal philosophy, and the way I interpret it, it’s a guide for how to be a more thoughtful, reasoned and patient person. There are a ton of gems and good quotes in this book, and is a comforting way to end a long day.

Pachinko

Min Jin Lee

Pachinko

Busan seemed like another life compared to Osaka; Yeongdo, their little rocky island, stayed impossibly fresh and sunny in her memory, though she hadn’t been back in twenty years…Even the memory of the moon and stars in Korea seemed different than the cold moon here; no matter how much people complained about how bad things were back home, it was difficult for Sunja to imagine anything but the bright, sturdy house that her father had taken care of so well by the green, glassy sea…When she was there, she had not loved it enough.

This novel follows four generations of a Korean family who migrate to Japan, and highlights their joys, sorrows and regrets. It’s based on a time period in history that I didn’t know much about before reading this. In the 1920s, many Koreans moved (some by force) to Japan as the Japanese started taking over their country. Sunja is the matriarch of the family in the novel, and although the novel changes points of view throughout, I enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes the most. The pull of home gets stronger for her as the novel progresses, although by the end, most of her life is spent outside of the place she’s born. The characters are a mix of powerful, independent, stubborn, meek and accepting people which adds to the complexity and layers that I found enjoyable to navigate.

Bonus: Great interview with the author on The Gist podcast.

A Visit from the Good Squad

Jennifer Egan

GoonSquad

There was a pause, during which Sasha was keenly aware of Coz behind her, waiting. She wanted badly to please him, to say something like It was a turning point; everything feels different now, or I called Lizzie and we made up finally, or I’ve picked up the harp again, or just I’m changing I’m changing I’m changing: I’ve changed! Redemption, transformation — God how she wanted these things. Every day, every minute. Didn’t everyone?

I picked up this novel because of an unusual feature – the last 20% of the book is a PowerPoint presentation. Who writes a book of fiction and includes a deck at the end?! Crazy.

The book’s format is the best thing about it. The chapters are designed to follow different characters, and one small detail of one chapter is picked up and explored from a different point of view in a future chapter. The timeline jumps as well, sometimes forward and sometimes back, but by the end we’re at the near-future. It’s a combination of comedy, science fiction, drama with an undertone of punk music. A fun hybrid read.

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