Total number of books I have owned: no real idea, but probably between one and two thousand.
Last book I bought: Michael Shermer, The Borderlands of Science. I confess that it cost $3 in the remainder rack at Red Hill Books.
Last book I finished: Gene Wolfe, On Blue’s Waters. Complex sci-fi full of ambiguity, false starts, and unreliable narration. In short, wonderful.
Five books that mean a lot to me:
- Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun tetralogy: Shadow and Claw and Sword and Citadel. I think I first read this cycle of novels around 1989, and it remains the best science fiction I have read. The layers of allusion, depth, and tricksterism in Wolfe’s novels are reminiscent of Calvino and Borges; but his books are far more complex and compelling.
- Maurice Bach, The Design of the Unix Operating System. I was introduced to this book, during my first year at Trinity, by Antony Courtney. It was my first introduction to the architecture of Unix, and to good writing about software.
- Abelson and Sussman, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. I read this when I was in secondary school, and it led me to an appreciation of simplicity and abstraction as mental tools to reason about software. Functional programming has shaped my programming career.
- Iain Banks, Consider Phlebas. Banks was the best British sci-fi writer of the 1980s and early 1990s, and this is his best novel.
- Jonathan Carroll, Outside the Dog Museum. I read this when I was living with Paul Moloney, in a squalid flat in Westland Row, as a student in Dublin. Paul had an inexhaustible supply of wonderful books, but this is the one that I remember most strongly, twelve years later.
- Damn it, I’m listing a sixth, too: Robert Kirschner, The Extravagant Universe. A hugely enjoyable autobiographical book about the dynamism of modern astronomy, and the race between Kirschner’s and Perlmutter’s teams for evidence of the universe’s expansion.