Cleaning up the geek bookshelf, part 1: “What was I thinking?”

In preparation for a move of house that isn’t actually likely to happen until 2007, Shannon and I have been going through some of our bookshelves. Our (admittedly unattainable) goal is to get rid of half of our books.

Since we don’t know when the move will occur (we first have to get permission from the City of San Francisco to demolish a house and build another, then actually build the bugger), what I think will really happen is that we will, some time in 2007, move exactly as many books as we have now.

So what am I throwing out? The victims appear to have fallen into five categories.

  1. Books that now make me wonder what I was thinking when I bought them;
  2. books that I bought because I was told to;
  3. books evaluated as wanting;
  4. books that turned up apparently from nowhere;
  5. and books that are too dated to have much residual value.

Here are a few representative samples.

  1. Wurman, Information Architects. A colourful, wretched tome that conflates jumpy graphic design and advertising with data visualisation. Properly done, data vis is informative, elegant, and gets out of your way so you can understand what you’re looking at. Wurman is responsible for the TED conferences, which should be indictment enough.
  2. Millman and Halkias, Integrated Electronics. I dealt with my analogue electronics classes in college by avoidance. I achieved a passing grade by skipping most of my classes, ignoring my assignments, and sitting idle through most of the final exam. Perhaps my transcript was swapped with that of someone less bolshy; I can’t imagine how I could have passed on the merits of the work I did.

    Most people get over such trauma by tearing up, burning, or selling (I know, too sanguine by half) their textbooks to achieve catharsis. Me, I had the bugger shipped across the Atlantic, to moulder on a succession of California bookshelves for a decade. I have no idea whether this book is any good, having never read it.

  3. Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind. A huge “look at me, I’m so clever” pop-science tour masquerading as a crusade against the notion of strong artificial intelligence. This travelled with me from Ireland when I was still in my “never throw stuff away” phase. In its favour, I will grant that I detest this book less than Gödel, Escher, Bach.
  4. Petzold, Programming Windows 95. One of those doorstop programming books that contains very little actual information, sort of the mental equivalent of cheeseburger for programmers.
  5. Williams, Programming the 68000. Nostalgia aside (this was the first programming book I bought, around age 15), I doubt I’ll ever run into a 68k-class CPU again at the instruction level, unless I start reprogramming washing machines.

Posted in reading
2 comments on “Cleaning up the geek bookshelf, part 1: “What was I thinking?”
  1. illissius says:

    Why do you detest Gödel, Escher, Bach? I haven’t read it yet but it’s been on my TODO list quite a while. Should it not be?

  2. Maryborough says:

    Love this post! It’s a relatable journey we all take at some point, sifting through our bookshelves and rediscovering gems (and questionable choices). Can’t wait for part 2! Also, it’s fascinating how our tastes evolve over time. Reminds me of a similar experience I had in Maryborough last summer.

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