Books That Made Me Meng
last modified Wednesday, 23-Apr-2008 08:49:50 PDT
For the past few years I've been wanting to put together a list of the most valuable books in my life --
those books which deeply influenced me and sank deep, close to the core of my being. And now, Amazon.com
has made it possible for me to give you the convenience of buying them right here on this page. Imagine
that! No need to play connect-the-dots all over the bookstore, wandering from category to category. No
need to drool, bewildered, before bookshelves that have no apparent organization. No need to stand in line
only to hear surly sales clerks say "I'm sorry, we don't have that in stock, but we can order it, it'll probably
be a couple weeks, what's your phone number?" Here, you get Amazon's standard discount, and the books
come right to your doorstep.
And besides, if you buy them through me, I get a tidy percentage :-)
The books are listed in roughly the order in which I met them; they're kind of a bibliographical biography. Know these
books, and you'll know me. I have aimed to provide more than a mere synopsis for each book: I have tried to
describe the effect that the book had on me, and how it did it.
- Hope For The Flowers by Trina Paulus
- The first lesson I learned in school was this: school is all about doing the same
things as the other kids, only better. Surely, I thought, that cannot be the way to succeed; the people history
remembers all broke the mould. Society relentlessly forces you toward the middle of the curve. If you're going to stand out,
you're going to have to break a few rules. The amazing thing about this book is that the lesson is written simply enough for
six-year-olds, yet has timeless wisdom. My older sister gave it to me. I will never be able to thank her enough. (Thanks
for your email, Trina! Hope your leg's better.)
- The Narnia Series by C.S. Lewis
- There are very few really good children's fantasy books; this series is one of them. The Christian mythology gets a bit
obvious at the end, but it's still worth it. These books got me started down the What-If road that leads to the land of
Anything-Can-Happen. I've never left.
- A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
- More really good juvenile speculative science-fiction/fantasy: the protagonists are intelligent children, and proud of it.
And they're okay with the alternate universe, and they adapt to it, and win!
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The story of a born magician's discovery and growth from apprentice to mage immersed me in a world as real as Tolkien's;
but while Tolkien decorates his world richly and with love, Le Guin sketches hers elegantly, simply, and with passion. The
unadorned simplicity of the hero's quest had an especially powerful effect on me: never before had I experienced a story so
intense told so well. Sequels are The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and
the more mature Tehanu.
- The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The fantasy classic against which all others are measured. When you're young, The Hobbit. When you're older, the
rest. This was the first fantasy epic that I ever read; Tolkien defines my Platonic ideals of fantasy characters.
- The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
- Set in timeless Wales, an elemental struggle between good and evil, where the fate of the world depends on the actions of child heroes
... what could be more inspiring? This series whetted my appetite for fresh breezes over ancient lands, deep magics guided by
normal-seeming characters with surprising powers, and Arthur's legacy rolling through from past times to today.
- Bridge To Terebithia by Katherine Paterson
- You know, the funny thing about childrens' books is that death never happens to any of the major characters. Bridge To
Terebithia hurt. No book had ever done that before.
- Picture Books of World Mythology
- Myth is one of the More Important Things in my life; I consider it an essential Thing To Know About. The school I went to
was ostensibly Christian, and we had chapel every week with parables and stories about Good Samaritans; in class the
textbooks used examples demonstrating basic Confucian ethics like schoolboys helping old ladies across the street. There was
I remember a very good, illustrated, large-print, picture book about Norse and Greek gods; that's where
I learned about Thor and Odin, Loki and Baldur. In other books, I learned about the Australian
Dreaming, about the Egg That Hatched The World and the Tower of Infinite Turtles, about the birth of
the Universe in Fire and Ice. And of course, the Arthurian legends. And the 1001 Nights.
- Roald Dahl
- The whimsy of Roald Dahl evokes the surrealism of Dr Seuss; The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory, and The
Witches particularly stand out in my memory. I understand that a collection, The Best Of Roald Dahl,
is available, but I haven't seen it myself. Not one of the essential authors, but still fun.
- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
- "You must never feel badly about making mistakes," explained Reason quietly, "as long as you
take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons
than you do by being right for the wrong reasons."
"But there's so much to learn," he said, with a thoughtful frown.
"Yes, that's true," admitted Rhyme; "but it's not just learning things that's important. It's
learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn things at all that matters."
- neat math facts, logic puzzles, and science experiments made fun for juveniles
- My left brain remembers a small red paperback chock full of really
cool stuff: it brought to life fun facts about math and science like the Mobius strip, the Klein bottle
and the Bernoulli Principle; it had logic puzzles that made you exult when you solved them; and it
showed you how to perform primitive science "experiments" using things you could find around the house.
They weren't really experiments as must as simple demonstrations of physical principles: for example,
cut a piece of paper in a spiral and hang it by a string above a candle flame, and when it starts to
turn, you have a visual demonstration of the fact that hot air rises. Too bad I don't remember the
title or the name. I'm reviewing some current offerings and will suggest one or two titles soon.
- your basic adventure books
- I remember books by enid blyton: The Famous Five and The Secret Seven were the British counterparts
to the American Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew novels.
- The Childcraft Encyclopedia
- I read every volume of this juvenile encyclopedia from cover to cover. It was arranged not from A to Z but by spheres of
knowledge like "Animals", "Plants", "Physics", "Geology and Geography", "History", "Puzzles", "How
People Live In Different Parts Of The World", and so on. It was brightly illustrated, and written in
that rare style that doesn't insult a child's intelligence. The best volume, though, was the one that
was meant for parents: it talked about the stages of a child's development, and what to expect at each
stage. I read the chapters on "The Infant" and "The Toddler" with mild amusement, "The Preteen" with
impatience, and "The Teenager" with the smirk of a snake.
I got serious about Science Fiction and fantasy around the same time as quantum physics, the occult,
and paranormal phenomena.
- Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono
- When I was 20 in Vancouver, I picked up this book and thought to myself, "maybe this book can teach me something." And I
read it: when I was halfway through I was thinking to myself "this isn't telling me anything new. I do
all this already." When I was done, the nagging feeling surfaced into realization -- I'd read it
before, ten years ago! Maybe inventive problem solving is born and cannot be taught -- but then again,
maybe anyone can develop eccentric and effective problem-solving techniques just by reading
books like this one, if they start young enough.
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- Problem solving is one half paying complete attention to every single datum
available, and one half seeing patterns and relationships in that data. Nothing can teach you that
better than a great detective story. I link to the hardcover because my Holmes was hardcover; a mass market paperback
edition is also available.
- The Klutz Book of Knots
- I became a little terror after learning "How To Tie The World's 25 Most Useful Hitches, Ties, Wraps,
and Knots." There's nothing so practical as knowing how to tie precisely the right knot for any given
- everything by Gerald Durrell
- Gerald Durrell, naturalist, zookeeper, and author taught me about animals, people, and places, and he
did it with humour. The world of animals is vast
and full of mysterious things; Gerald Durrell travelled the globe meeting
strange new species with all too human quirks. The book to start with, My Family And Other
Animals, describes his childhood in Corfu. It's a rare book that makes me want to follow in the
author's footsteps; after Durrell, I wanted to drop everything and become a naturalist.
- My Side of the Mountain by Jean George
- Ten-year-old boy elects to run away from home, and discovers self-sufficiency, courage, determination and the joys of nature
living as a hermit in a mountain forest. After I read this book I wanted to run away from home too.
At age 14 I moved from Singapore (8th grade) to Vancouver (10th). At age 16 I moved from Vancouver (graduated high school) to
Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania).
- Theories of Adolescence by R.E. Muuss
- When you drive through unfamiliar country, you first buy a map, and study it. It seemed only sensible
that I should, at age 13, fully research the coming years, which Childcraft had promised would be full
of new relationships, emotional turmoil, and intense personal growth. I didn't know it was a textbook;
I just treated it as a series of essays, and found them profoundly stimulating. They covered strange
and wonderful material, discussing mysteries such as "the stages of ethical development" with dry,
scientific assurance. I read the 1988 5th edition,
which may be out of print; in that case try for the more recent 6th
- Everything by Robert Heinlein
- The breadth and depth of his ideas defined the Golden Age of speculative science fiction, and canalized me toward his
peculiar brand of libertarian philosophy. For more information see the Heinlein
FAQ available off the Heinlein homepage. My
personal recommended reading order follows:
- A boxed set includes
Waldo & Magic,
Double Star, and
Door into Summer,
four books peripheral to his future history, but a good introduction nonetheless.
- Regrettably, the major corpus of his future series, The Past Through Tomorrow, appears to be out of print! It's not
listed under amazon.com, but you should check your local bookstores anyway. It won't be out of print forever, so just keep
an eye out for it.
- The next best thing to The Past Through Tomorrow is Expanded Universe, an anthology of Future
History short stories and social-criticism essays.
- Starship Troopers
- Revolt in 2100
- The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
- Time Enough For Love
- Stranger in a Strange Land
- The Number Of The Beast
- The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
- To Sail Beyond The Sunset
- Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 series: 2001,
2010, 2061, and 3001
Timeless and majestic, open-ended masterpieces about the discovery of alien intelligence by all-to-human humans.
- The movie was too psychedelic, too 70's to really enjoy today, but the books touch a nerve: how did we
come to be intelligent? Are there other races in the galaxy? What is our future as a species?
- Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- "There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the universe is for and why
it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizzarre and
inexplicable. There is another which states that this has already happened."
- Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
- My parents raised me freethinking. Religion just wasn't an issue; at church weddings we'd close our eyes and bow
our heads; at Chinese New Year we'd make the rounds and burn incense for our ancestors. Hesse's Siddhartha and The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos
Kazantzakis gave me new insight into religion, and made me wonder why exactly there were so many brands of
Christianity. To this day I don't know the point of being Protestant, Catholic, Anglican or Baptist; shouldn't it
all be the same? Isn't personal wisdom a more important goal than social observance of religious customs?
- The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers
- I read this before Hero With A Thousand Faces; it is probably the best popular introduction to
the study of myth I have ever read. Covers all the bases. It made me examine my life in the context
of world myths, and I came to understand the importance of ritual to humans and human society.
- Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
- A few years elapsed between The Power of Myth and Hero. This book is much drier,
academic almost, but how long could I put off Lucas's inspiration for Star Wars? Seeing
yourself as a hero with a quest to fulfill is deeply empowering, if you can live up to it.
- The Dystopians and Utopians: Orwell and Huxley.
- For school, but here at least I agreed with the picks. Even if it's set in the far future, science fiction is really about
the present. Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, Huxley's Brave New World and Island opened my eyes to the
frightening truths and to the practical possibilities of the society that we live in. Another school-assigned book that did
the same was Lord of the Flies by William
Golding. For sure, we may smugly agree that "life in the state of nature ... is nasty, brutish, and short", but Golding
strips away the sane superego of society to shine light on the Hobbesian id lurking in the darkness. Why do so many readers flinch from
this book? Goethe has the answer: "Know thyself? If I knew myself, I'd run away."
- Kurt Vonnegut
- I've only encountered his short stories (Welcome To the Monkey House) but Harrison
Bergeron restates the theme of 1984 very elegantly.
- Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
- There is a Zen-like irony at work here: that it takes a white guy from a purely Western tradition, in the throes of a World
War to discover Zen truths. Not a real life-changer but others seem to like it too. And besides, I was young when I
read it. I should read it again.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
- What is Quality? This book more than any other on this page turned my mind inside-out and permanently opened new windows of
- Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
- The best book on the operations of the human mind. Hofstadter would have liked Feynman's little ditty:
I wonder why. I wonder why.
GEB convinced me that I wanted a career in the cognitive sciences. (I changed my mind after a couple of interminable and
pointless Cog Sci lectures at Penn demonstrated typically academic disconnection from reality.)
This magnum opus is followed by
Metamagical Themas and Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise of the Music of
I wonder why I wonder.
I wonder why I wonder why
I wonder why I wonder!
- Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
- I'd just read Godel, Escher, Bach, when I saw this lying on the coffee table at my brothers' house.
Zen is easy. The hard part is getting past the words.
I should have read these books sooner. Once I got to college and discovered the
Internet (back in the glory days of 1992-) I hungrily researched the online world, and the offline world whose themes were
education (or the lack thereof), racial inequality, and cognition.
- Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott
- The ultimate science fiction movie. When William Gibson saw it, he was reportedly bummed out,
saying that Blade Runner had successfully evoked exactly the atmosphere he was trying to
create in Neuromancer. I watch it every year, and every year I find new meanings hidden,
waiting to be uncovered. Based on Do Androids Dream
Of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Retrofitting
Bladerunner by Judith Kerman provides literary analysis.
- Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola
- I encountered Apocalypse Now in high school; we were studying Conrad's Heart of
Darkness. The Great Literature that we studied in high school welcomed literary analysis: find the
symbols, themes, literary techniques; spot structural patterns, identify the scenes and acts, explain
the mysterious "the horror, the horror". My high school was very good. Sure, it's a movie, and full
of explosions and special effects, but that didn't mean it's not a work of art, too, and a valid
target for consideration under the same terms as Shakespeare.
- Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman
- When I was young I was won over by Gerald Durrell: I wanted to follow in his footsteps, and become a
naturalist. After I read Feynman I wanted to follow in his footsteps -- but then, Feynman is really about being your
own person no matter what your profession is.
- In Search of Schrodinger's Cat by John Gribbin
- The best introduction to quantum physics you'll ever find. Before reading this book I walked around admiring the
physics, chemistry, and biology apparent in the world; after reading this book that appreciation expanded
- Chaos: Making a New Science by James
Gleick, Complexity by
- After quantum physics I tacked Chaos; there are lessons in this new science of Complexity and Chaos that apply directly to
systems at all levels, everywhere in everyday life. This new understanding has facilitated my activities with computers and
in the business world.
- The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks
- When computers experience software or hardware errors, they
generally stop working in obvious and uninteresting ways. By comparison, errors occurring in the human brain can be
fascinatingly bizarre. This, together with Neurophilosophy and The Emperor's New Mind, got me interested in the field of cognitive science.
- Neuromancer by William Gibson
- The cyberpunk book. I read it before 1992 and that just made the nascent Internet seem all the more magical when I
- The Stranger by Camus
- The message I got out of Existentialism was this: your destiny is what you make it. Make it.
- Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- In a recent interview superannuated Londoners, when asked, "what
was the happiest time of your life?" responded "The Blitz."
Something about adversity makes every moment pregnant, every day
richer, every sunrise brighter. It is very likely easier to find
meaning amidst the horrors of Aushwitz than in the unreflecting,
quietly miserable doldrums of daily life.
- The World According To Garp by John Irving
- This novel first envelopes, and then becomes part of you. Irving has a direct line to Human Truths.
Just Don't Understand by Deborah Tannen
- Men get along fine with men. Women get along fine with women. But, very often, men and women just aren't on the
same wavelength. Tannen's illuminating insights compare cultures of communication from a sociolinguistic point of
view. This was amazing stuff: academics, applied! After this book, I got along just fine with girls.
- A History Of Knowledge by Charles Van Doren
- The great thing about history books is the way they humble you: the place you in the context of the entire course of human
endeavour. And they give you new eyes, and the gift of time travel: walk the streets and see, not the present day, but the
lay of the land a hundred, a thousand years ago; and let your imagination fast-forward the buildings to dust, see the
invention and rise of new technologies, and sift from that view a glimpse of the unvarying constants of human nature.
Now, does anybody know if the Charles Van Doren who wrote this book is also the Charles Van Doren so prominent in the movie Quiz Show? (This question was answered
by Lee Daniel Levine (email@example.com): they are indeed one and the same. -- mww 19980420)
- The Discoverers by Boorstin
- A history of the world told not in strict chronological order, but by the motifs of human discovery, linking disparate times
and places by the common humanity of their world-changing events. In matters of world history I am still a child. In
learning about the past, one discovers timeless truths about the human condition. This book will endow you with a thousand years
- Tufte, on Information Design
- In the art of design are beauty and truth made one. If, like myself, you think best with wordless images, and there is a
compulsion deep in your nature that responds to the challenge of showing data, then buy all these books. Personally, my rule in
displaying data is simple: if you take off your glasses and stand six feet away, you should still be able to hear what the
data is saying.
Don Norman's Design
of Everyday Things goes well with this set.
- Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman
- Neil Postman, renowned social critic, denounces television as the symbiote of a failing society.
- The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
- A forceful polemic with urgent truths, or golden-age nostalgic rantings from an academic who just
doesn't understand the real world? You decide; either way it's thought provoking. It's an interesting
sign that two critical follow-ups, Essays on the Closing of the American Mind and New
Perspectives on the Closing of the American Mind, are out of print, but the original is still going
- Four Arguments for the
Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander
- The X-Files routinely explores cover-ups and conspiracies: the stranger the truth, the more
likely it is to be disbelieved. This book as potent as it is ignored.
- The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
- Can it be true? This book is a perfect example of what can happen to a theory that
contradicts current scientific paradigms. Jaynes's fundamental message that consciousness is a
recent invention only 3000 years old is startling, well researched, and ultimately unprovable.
Of course, the history of the world according to Darwin is equally unprovable, which is why, so far,
the theory of evolution is just that -- a theory, not a law. But Darwin certainly seems to be right,
doesn't he? Jaynes's message is every bit as revolutionary as Galileo's was in its day, but nobody's
listening. I asked the professor who recommended me the book "so, what does the scientific
world think of Jaynes? Has there been follow-up research?" He didn't know, and there probably hasn't.
Kuhn was right -- if you're outside the paradigm, you're out in the cold.
- Cyberspace: First Steps edited by Michael Benedikt, 1992
- A collection of essays by cyberspace visionaries, dating from 1992, the year the Internet entered public consciousness. The
best of the bunch is an essay by Benedikt himself on some proposed physical laws for the structure of cyberspace. The sheer
audacity, scope, and levelheaded pragmatism of the article drove home the possibility of a true Gibsonian cyberspace: there
are worlds waiting to be created, and it is up to us to make them.
- The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg
- Oldenburg argues that in addition to the work place and the home, there are "third places" that we modern humans are ignoring
at our peril: social places for relaxation where we recharge our souls. A landmark book exploring the effects of modern life
on our social landscape.
- Neil Gaiman's Sandman Series and other comics
- Gaiman is the Shakespeare of comics: he has redefined the medium in ways no comic author has ever attempted. Good
for you, the series just ended, and now all 75 issues are available compleat, bound into ten volumes. I say good
for you because you won't have to suffer the agony of waiting, as I did, for the resolution to this epic tragedy.
Begin with Preludes
and Nocturnes which, like all beginnings, is a tad awkward; Gaiman didn't find his voice, hit his stride, until
The rest in order are Dream Country, A Game Of You, World's End, Season of Mists, Fables and
Reflections, Brief Lives, The Kindly Ones, and The Wake. If you
want to try before you buy, you can convince yourself of Gaiman's genius with the standalone miniseries Death: the High Cost
of Living. Other spinoff miniseries include Death: the Time of your Life and
Gaiman's The Books
of Magic, sequeled by Bindings, Summonings, and Reckonings. Completists will want
Sandman: Book of
Dreams too. Continuing works in the Sandman universe include "The Dreaming" and "The Books of Magic". Elements
of the DC Universe that Gaiman draws most strongly from are Hellblazer (Original Sins, Dangerous Habits, and Fear and
Loathing), and Swamp Thing (Saga Of, and Love and Death).
Before Frank Miller, comics kept to formula: bulging superheroes kept getting into, and out of, adolescent
situations. After his reinterpretation of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns comics
pushed into film noir territory. His black-and-white Sin City world is stark with sweat, whiskey, women, and
gunpowder: get Sin
City, A Dame
To Kill For, Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow
Bastard. In Kingdom Come, Mark Waid and Alex
Ross took an ageing cast of DC's "golden age"
characters into the postmodern complexities of the 21st Century. And with Strangers In Paradise Terry Moore shows that a male
writer can know women better than most women know themselves.
- Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game Series
- The first book, Ender's Game, follows a
genius-grade boy through an excruciating path of self-discovery through the crucible of intensive military training starting at age six,
ending in an intergalactic space battle. The trial-by-fire of character-building will evoke and stoke the strongest
emotional memories of this stage of your own life, when you had to endure, persevere, and triumph. The rest are vehicles for
Orson Scott Card's explorations of more mature, philosophical questions. Read them all: Speaker For The Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind. Even as Ender's youth
is a lesson in courage for all of us, the remainder of the series are lessons in mature wisdom.
- Dan Simmons's Hyperion Series
- Once in every decade a science fiction author appears with that rare ability to spawn a full-fledged universe,
populated at every level in convincing detail; Asimov did it with his Robot and Foundation series, Heinlein did it
with his Future History, and Dan Simmons has done it with Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of
- Larry Niven's Known Space and Ringworld Series
- Niven is another great, up there with Heinlein and Asimov. Read them all: Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers. (Ringworld
Throne was not so good -- or maybe I just need to read it again to "get it".) And Three Books of Known Space present a
satisfying introduction to the Known Space universe.
- Everything by Roger Zelazny
- His Amber fantasy series (start with Nine Princes In Amber) will suck you into his
beautifully whimsical universe. But don't judge his talents as a serious author by that series: try your best to find "Creatures
of Light and Darkness", Lord of Light, and The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth.
- A Quarter
Century of Unix by Peter Salus
- This book provides a valuable foundation for understanding the "selfish altruism" ethic of the early
Internet. To mangle metaphors, a rising tide lifts all boats, and we can all pee into the ocean, can't
we? Ahem. The first rule of software design: solve a problem that you yourself are facing. The first
rule of internet software design: give away your solution, because someone else is probably facing the
problem too. This book also touches on the histories of computing giants: DEC's disdain for unix and its
long rivalry with IBM, Microsoft's guerilla attack with Xenix before the days of MSDOS. The most
important insight I drew from this sociological, anecdotal history of Unix is this: create a certain
environment, and you'll get a certain system dynamic. Linux recapitulates Unix, but I didn't know that
until I read this book. It happened in the 70's. It happened again in the 90's. I was so tickled to see
my complex-system theories confirmed!
I saw the article by Ken Thompson in CACM and immediately wrote a letter to him asking for more details
and the possibility of receiving the software, which I received immediately from him (on DEC RK05
cartridges) without any license limitation whatsoever. That was Unix Version 5. We had been struggling
with a PDP-11/45 and RTL or RSX11 for a graphics project. On receipt of Unix we immediately threw the DEC
stuff away and went with the BTL (Bell Telephone Labs) stuff. This was later followed by Version 6, 6.1,
6.2, Version 7, and then our DEC VAX-11/780 (serial number 10) arrived. We had ordered it without a VMS
license (DEC was astonished at that time) and used first the Labs' Unix VAX version (partly running in
PDP-11 mode), and later the Berkeley stuff. -- Teus Hagen
Incredibly, this quote comes from 1977, twenty years before Linux popularized the open source movement!
- Tog On Interface
- During my 3 years in Singapore I discovered an interesting factoid: many books that are out-of-print in the US are
readily available and selling well on bookshelves in the East! This, together with Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines
and the above-mentioned series by Tufte are the books I most often recommend to people interested in web design and
computer interfaces in general.
- Assorted readings on Spirituality
- In discussing
religion with my father I pointed out that all the major teachings of the world's great religious traditions shared
a common ethical core. Rereading The Power of Myth launched
an investigation of comparative religion which touched down on the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness, Gary Zukav's
odd little The Seat
of The Soul, Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew, and hindumythology.com.
- The Writer's Journey by Vogler
- This excellent companion to Campbell was one of the high points of my "books on writing" period. I also enjoyed
Orson Scott Card on SF --- more to come.
At last update I am 24. Suggestions are welcome!
It takes more to raise a reader than a full shelf of inert books. The best friend of books is boredom, and a carefully
structured boredom at that.
Growing up in Singapore helped. There were only two english channels on TV. What TV I did watch was mostly nature shows (I
remember Attenborough's The Living
Planet), inane sitcoms (remember "Small Wonder"? I had a crush on her.), and geek fantasies like Knight Rider. There
was nothing to do at home. I rarely had friends over. My parents never forced me into music. There was always homework to
do, and reading was a wonderful way to procrastinate.
A lack of mobility helped. I didn't have a bus stop or a subway station down the road, so I was stuck at home for
most of my youth. There was the trip to school every day, and then there was the trip to the bookstore every weekend. I soon
learned that the world within the pages was far more fascinating than the world between my walls. I even remember my parents
scolding me, when we were on vacation, for burying myself in a book when I should be enjoying the sights.
Not having any siblings helped. I was raised an only child. I've visited families with lots of children. It seems to me
that in large families, a tremendous amount of time goes to waste! The younger ones have nothing to do, so they run around
the house, looking for you so you can entertain them. If you don't want to play, they'll get your attention anyway, by
taking your things, and hiding them, or breaking them. When it's attention they're after, they'll get it one way or another.
Or there are fights and squabbles that drain your energy. I am told that growing up this way is normal for human beings.
The wisdom of my parents helped. There were three sets of bookcases in my bedroom, and not one, but two reading lamps on the
headboard behind my bed. They enforced early bedtimes. What else can a kid do when he's in bed, not sleepy at all, and is
surrounded by books? And my dad took the time to open doors to me at a young age: he instructed me in the proper use of the
dictionary, the thesaurus, the encyclopedia, the map. I remember one hot afternoon, my mother asleep, myself bored; I picked
up a thesaurus and got fascinated. I must have been absorbed for a whole hour, just flipping pages, following unexpected
associations. I was a weird kid.
Easy access to books helped. At first, my dad would take me to the library each week, and we would take out a heaping
armful from the childrens' section. Later, we went to the bookstore. Since my mom had a 10% discount card there, it was
easy to sucker her into buying lots of books -- after all, I reasoned, the more books we bought, the more money we saved.
The library of my brothers helped; they had wonderful books, and were endlessly willing to lend me anything I
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