I Was Thinking I Could Read Up for Christmas
Closing out the semester by organizing my bookshelf
Welp. That blog on overpublication set off a firestorm. It’s great to see that the sentiment is widely shared, and I loved hearing about how you are all thinking of potential solutions. I also appreciate all of the pushback about how collective action against this trend is fraught with risk for pre-tenure researchers. I tried to engage with as many comments and critiques as I could, both here and on Twitter. That didn’t seem wholly sufficient, so I drafted a blog trying to begin to address some of the paths forward. But that draft blog became impossibly long and unfocused. I need to think about it, and a couple of weeks of winter break might help me to settle my thoughts. I plan to start the new year with a reflection on this conversation.
But for now, I submitted my grades last night and am off a winter vacation with my family. I don’t plan on blogging while away, but some sort of regular blogging will resume in the New Year.
Before I go on vacation, let’s leave the semester on a fun and positive note. Here’s a list of books I hope to dig into over break. I’ll probably only read one of these, but I like to make a list of aspirational possibilities before a trip and see what I can get through.
The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler. Rob Nowak recommended this one to me a while back, and I am finally getting around to it. This one’s a sci-fi novel about the discovery of superintelligent cephalopods on Earth and their first encounters with humans. I’ve always believed there is a hidden band of super smart octopi that are biding their time to reclaim the planet from us, so I’m looking forward to Nayler’s telling of this story.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers. A post-apocalyptic novel about robots that became sentient and decided to opt out of labor and form a drop-out commune? Yes, sign me up! I’m sold on the premise and was told the execution is also delightful.
Physics Avoidance by Mark Wilson. Moving on to my non-fiction goals, Max Raginsky strongly recommended Physics Avoidance to me a few months ago, and I’ve finally gotten into it. I loved the first essay. Though there’s a sizeable literature on the philosophy of science, Wilson’s book is a rare philosophy of engineering. In particular, he’s grappling with something that has always perplexed me: How do we come up with these approximations that let us jump between scales? How do we zoom from the atomic to the solid state to the circuit to the airplane? I’ll probably be blogging about this one at some point next year.
Direct Action: An Ethnography by David Graeber. Graeber is one of my favorite writers and one of the biggest influences on my own writing. He’s also shaped the way I think about machine learning and engineering more broadly. Now I have become a completionist. Direct Action is his participatory-observer study of modern protest movements and the rituals around how they organize themselves. I’m particularly interested in his perspectives on governance through rituals of participatory decision making. Is this related to Tuesday’s blog? Yes.
These four are just the tip of an overly ambitious list of books I’ll never finish. But I’m always looking to add more books to the pile. Thinking about what I want to read can help me focus on what I want to think about in the first place. So what’s on your winter reading list? And what should I add to mine?