Books I Read in February 2008

Fewer books this month. It’s a shorter month, of course, but really I got a bit bogged down in a couple of books. I’m still reading David Mitchell’s number9dream, but I’ll finish it in a couple of days so it will be included in next month’s list.

Oh, and I read a few X-Men comic collections. But I’m not going to include those.

Beautiful Code – Andy Oram & Greg Wilson (editors)
I’m told that a good programmer learns a new language every year. If that’s true, then I haven’t been a particularly good programmer for the last few years as I’ve largely stuck with my core languages. I picked up this book as an attempt to address that. The book contains articles by a number of well-known programmers writing about what they find beautiful in their favourite programming languages. It is a useful overview of the programming languages that are in current use (there was even an article about FORTRAN – some people still use it). I now have a list of two or three languages that I want to learn more about (Erlang is top of that list) but, more interestingly, it has also reinforced some ideas that I had about languages that I don’t want to learn. Michael Feathers talks about the way that the FIT framework breaks all the rules of good Java design and describes code which is pretty much how I would have designed it. Charles Petzold talks about writing code that generates other code in C# and makes me very glad that I use a dynamic language.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
This is this month’s book club book. But it’s something that I would probably have picked up myself eventually. A couple of years ago I was interested in reading Hosseini’s first novel, The Kite Runner, but I never got round to it. Having read this one, I don’t think I’ll bother now. The novel is about the plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban. I think that it uses that obviously shocking background to give it emotional impact – which is a bit lazy on the part of the author. This background is really the only thing that the book has going for it. The characters are all very one-dimensional and the plotting is very simplistic (“oh no, the love of my life is dead”, time passes, “oh, wait, no he isn’t”) and the ending is as contrived as anything I’ve read. The book is getting a lot of publicity at the moment on the back of the Kite Runner film, but I really don’t think it’s good enough to justify the hype.

Rip It Up and Start Again – Simon Reynolds
Subtitled “Postpunk, 1978-1984″, this is a book about one of my favourite periods of popular (and not so popular) music. Postpunk was never really a single movement. It was a number of different styles all of which built on various aspects of punk rock movement. The diversity of postpunk can be seen from the range of bands covered in this book – it starts with Public Image Limited and ends with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. If you were buying slightly alternative music at the time covered by this book, or you appreciate the music of this period, then I strongly recommend reading it. One warning though – it’ll almost certainly have a detrimental effect on your bank account as you are reminded of music that you have forgotten and you no longer have copies of.

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