Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

07 Apr 2009, 13:23 p.m.

Five Books (With A Little Cheating)

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2009 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Years after Zed and Rachel C. (Update: and Erica Olsen!!) tagged me with fairly similar book blogpostmemes, I respond. Hugo Schwyzer did a similar one once that I'm taking this opportunity to link to, and I've posted other book recommendation lists elsewhere.

Number of books I own: This is one of those that blurs when you enter into a book-sharing household/partnership. We share, for example, all the Neal Stephenson. I have about 400 books, not including the hundreds of Amar Chitra Katha comic books and other such single issues, and then Leonard has bookcases more.

Total number of books I've [ever] owned: Probably a thousand. I know I left a lot in California.

Last book bought: I think that's the 1962 Cherry Ames "annual" I saw while walking by a bookstore in Cambridge, UK. It was in those one-pound boxes outside the door, in the front of the stack, and it instantly caught my eye. I thought, Rivka Might Like This! But it turns out she doesn't want it, so I'll be BookMooching it or something.

Last book read: Reread: I just reread several chapters of the great Vikram Seth book A Suitable Boy. I can always reread Haresh's battles in the shoe industry, the harrowing aftermath of Maan's and Firoz's confrontation at Saeeda Bai's, Professor's Mishra's scheming around Pran's promotion, Lata, Amit, Mrs Rupa Mehra, Kalpana, oh look I just reread another hundred pages.

Fresh read: started Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars ebook.

Last book finished: Reread: an old Cat and Girl anthology. Classic, funny, incisive.

Fresh read: I read and finished the ebook of Scott Sigler's novel Infected, which was more horror-y than I like in scifi.

Five books that mean a lot to me:

  1. Children of the River by Linda Crew. I read it my freshman year of high school, as an elective in our Romeo and Juliet unit. A Cambodian girl who was perfectly happy in Phnom Penh adjusts to life as a farm laborer and student at an Oregon high school. Her aunt and uncle, her foster parents in the States, want her to study hard and avoid boys. One comes easier than the other. There's a passage where she can tell that a guy's gaze across the classroom means that he could watch her all day with affection and awe. I wrote in my Double-Entry Journal for class that I simply couldn't imagine that ever happening to me. My teacher asked, "Why not?" and I had no answer. And the relationships between Sundara and her aunt, her brother, and her Khmer community helped me get perspective on my family and their friends.

    Special shout-out here to the similarly themed nonfiction oral history Bamboo & Butterflies, which opened my eyes substantially. There's an anecdote about an abortion and another about punctuality that still stay with me, fifteen years later.

  2. Imzadi by Peter David. I adored Star Trek and when I was a teenager this was one of the best Trek stories I'd ever watched or read. And there was graphic sex! SO COOL.

  3. The Mahabharata. In comics or in prose or in drama or in critical essays or in any other form. There's so much there. One reason I never really got into the Epic Fantasy Tolkien/Jordan/Martin stuff is that I already had a mythology, stranger and larger and more exciting than anything a single author could spin out.

  4. American Taxation, American Slavery by Robin Einhorn. I took an American History class with Prof. Einhorn my first year at Berkeley, and felt stupid and astonished when she used the changing price of slaves to inform her explanation of pre-Civil War economics. Her influence led me to consider grad school in tax history. American Taxation, American Slavery, which came out a few years ago, is dense and academic and brainbending. It prepped me to read Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves. It gave me a tremendous respect for the importance of institutional competence in government agencies. And it refuted damaging "taxation=slavery" rhetoric, not least by diagnosing it as projection by slaveowners.

    Special shout-out here to academic texts The Social Animal by Eliot Aronson, the most lucid textbook I've ever read, and The Psychology of Computer Programming by Gerald Weinberg, which has informed my management style substantially.

  5. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I read it in college, in that first apartment with green carpet and fake wood panelling on the walls, first in little random chapters, then -- maybe, finally, years later -- cover to cover. Just reread most of it on Saturday. I've been interrogating the pro-startup, anti-employee bent of my tech culture recently, and rereading Cryptonomicon reminds me that Randy cofounds a startup and gets to have awesome adventures! A zillion Stephenson phrases and images and metaphors and scenes have made themselves part of me. The ending of In the Beginning...Was The Command Line (Seth gave me my copy) stands next to the opening of the original GPL as a clarion call. How can I express how deeply Cryptonomicon is constitutive in my identity?

I figure the statute of limitations is under three years, so I won't tag anyone and coerce them into posting with this template, but I bet my in-laws would enjoy doing this if they haven't already!


08 Apr 2009, 18:50 p.m.

... Timing!