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


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


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.


Min Jin Lee


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


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.

Book Review: Far & Away

“Travellers venture forth because they want to experience a place, not just see it.”

In Far & Away, Andrew Solomon collects his essays and reporting from seven continents and 24 countries, over the period of 25 years. He tends to travel to countries when they are going through dramatic change, upheaval, or modernization.


Solomon visits South Africa after apartheid, Russia before and after the breakup of the USSR, China over the period of a decade, Rio in the years leading up the Olympics, Mongolia as nomads try to keep their way of life, and Myanmar after limited democratic elections.

Continue reading

Why do we struggle to read some books?

Recently I tried to read The Road by Cormac McCarthy… and it was my second attempt. I started it with a determination to actually finish it this time, but I just couldn’t do it. I really really wanted to see what all the fuss is about as so many people really seem to like it – everyone from Oprah to the Pulitzer Prize and in between.

But me…I just couldn’t do it. I got to about page 10 and could not for the life of me concentrate on the book. My mind wanders as I read the paragraphs, I have this buring desire to skip ahead and see if the entire book is like this, and just all in all AVOID the current page in front of me. I have been thinking about whether it was a result of being tired before I go to bed (which is usually the time I read fiction), or if it was the writing style, the pace, or what.

It was probably a combination of a few things that prevented me from finishing the book, but one thing I have to comment on is the writing style of dialogue. Lately, I have noticed that authors omit quotes around dialogue, or just have no dialogue in the story. I grew up writing, and still write, with character dialogue in single (‘ ‘) or double (” “) quotes. I’m not sure which is actually right, I guess there are many ways to do it depending if you want to be ‘modern’ (single quotes) or post-modern (no quotes). It definitely does seem to be the trend to disregard quotes though, and let the reader assume the dialogue through the tone or slang. Quote-free dialogue was also a part of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I really liked, but still took a few pages to get used to.

Anyway, I know it’s not only the quotes that bothered me about The Road – part of it is that you have to be ready to read certain books, and not force it! One day I’ll try it again, it’ll be third time lucky I think…

Books I read in 2008

I like to read – a lot. In 2007 I started keeping track of all books I read, and 2008 is the first full year that I know exactly which books I’ve read. It’s neat to go back through my Moleskin notebook that lists all books I’ve tackled this year – and even to recall books I had already forgotten about! So without further ado, here is my list of 2008 books (over 30 in total!):

Continue reading