Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Triple Play

It's been a slow June so far, but today I finished three books! (Although I reviewed News Junkie earlier today, I finished it several days ago.) Not only is my resolution going well at the moment -- nine books is my biggest margin yet -- but I am also on track for my informal goal of reading 100 books this year.

To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski - This book is getting a bit old, but then, so am I. Consequently, I remember most of the failures described in this book such as the Kansas City Hyatt Regency walkway collapse and the DC-10 crash near O'Hare Airport. I've been on an engineering kick lately -- we watched a Discovery Channel DVD of Extreme Engineering last night -- perhaps because most of the money I made last year involved an engineering project whereas this year I haven't made much money, period. I never thought I'd recall 2008 as the good old days. But anyway... While I enjoyed this book, I understand why Amazon reviewers criticize Petroski's writing. He often belabors his points, but the overkill helps lay people like me to comprehend thoroughly. The book's premise is that engineers learn more from one failure than a thousand successes. This idea transcends engineering, so it isn't exactly a revelation. Regardless, it's an interesting book for anyone who wants to learn more about engineering and the stories behind some well-known disasters.

Between You and Me: A Little Book of Bad English by James Cochrane - I buy a lot of books about language. I think it's helpful to remind oneself of correct usage occasionally to resist developing bad writing or speaking habits. This book is good but short. One of the entries I never thought about was lowest common denominator -- in math, the LCD is usually a relatively high number, but that isn't how we use the term in general (Cochrane laments this as "a Lost Cause"). Between You and Me also includes George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language." At first, I dismissed this as a lame way to stretch out a too-short book. When I read the essay, however, I recognized that Orwell and Cochrane have similar perspectives, which makes the inclusion worthwhile. Believe it or not, I managed to get through high school and college without reading Animal Farm or 1984, so this is the first time I've read anything by Orwell. I enjoyed it more than I expected.

F My Life by Maxime Valette, Guillaume Passaglia, and Didier Guedj - This one is just plain fun. Anytime you feel like you're having a bad day, read this book or go to http://www.fmylife.com/ and you'll find someone whose day is worse. Of course, one might ask, "Why buy the book when you can read the Web site for free?" First, I wanted to cheer up my wife, and she's the anti-DJWriter as far as the Internet goes -- I spend many hours a day online, she spends several minutes a month. Second, I would hope that the authors filtered out the lousier Web entries. Suffice it to say*, if you like the Web site, you'll like the book. It's probably best in smaller doses (the format gets repetitive after a while), so keep it where you can read it for 5-10 minutes at a time.

Current tally: 50 books finished, 41 books acquired

* I initially left "it" out of this phrase, and then I remembered something from Cochrane's book: "If one is going to use this rather old-fashioned expression one should get it right: suffice it to say, meaning 'let it be enough to say'. Suffice to say is ignorant and lazy." Ouch.

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