Favorite books of 2023
This year, I managed to read more than last year, but I was still pretty caught up in technical learning and unfortunately didn’t reach the fiction-non fiction balance I wanted (I always try to read more fiction than non-fiction.)
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver - By far my favorite book of the year. The premise is, “What if David Copperfield, but set in the 1990s in Appalachia at the start of the opioid crisis, and narrated by a modern 10-year old?” The narrative voice is amazing and the plot manages to loosely cover David Copperfield and translate the issues of poverty and addiction to the modern day. It not only is sad, but contains humor, wit, and wry observations that are not cloying. I can’t stop thinking about this book and how skilled the author is to take us inside Demon’s mind.
The Outlaws by Javier Cercas - This book, translated from Spanish, covers the years of Spain after the Franco dictatorship but only obliquely hints at them. Instead, it focuses on the town of Girona. Girona is now famous for being one of the places that Game of Thrones was shot, but in the early 80s, it was the scene of a lot of crime and poverty. The book follows a group of teenagers who don’t fit in, for various reasons, and, as a result, turn to crime, and how the implications of that crime follows all of them over the course of decades. Lots of grappling with what it means to grow up, morality, and the role of the legal system in reforming or harming a human being.
Becoming a Technical Leader by Gerald Weinberg - I’ve read and recommended Weinberg before and recommend him yet again. He wrote about what it means to be a technical leader even before there was a technical leadership industry and his advice is both sharp and empathetic and carries through the decades.
The Last Interview by Anthony Bourdain - There are some people who I often wish were still alive so I could have their take on things. Anthony Bourdain is one of these. His observations about the world are razor-sharp and entirely spot on, and he doesn’t spare anything or anyone for the sake of the truth, but you come away feeling enlightened rather than chastised - he is in on the joke with you and you are sitting at a table together, chatting amiacably every time you read one of his essays.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin - A gut punch of a book, beautiful and lyrical. It’s about two friends starting a video game company and I don’t know anything about video games but the author’s research and passion drew me in. It’s about a lot more: about what it menas to have creative agency, about friendship, about love, loss, and about our role as the hero in our lives.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue - Addie makes a deal with the devil in which she is immortal but in exchange people forget her almost as soon as they see her, which leads to all kinds of problems living in society. A wonderful idea for a book and brilliant execution as she lives from Medieval France to modern day. I found myself cheering for Addie the whole way.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez - Olga grows up in the Puerto Rican community in New York and becomes enormously successful as a wedding planner, but cannot manage her own relationships, particularly that with her absentee mother and her brother. A rich book brimming with life and imbued with both the flavor of New York and the American dream, and of the hopes and fears of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
I also read a ton of technical books last year, but the most impactful one for me was Neural Network Methods for Natural Language processing by Yoav Goldberg. It covers all of the fundamentals of what is important in large language models today, fundamentals which, if you don’t understand coming into this work and the blur of the industry today, you will be lost.