10.08, Wednesday 22 Jul 2015 Link to this post
I read a bunch of books – here are the books I read in 2008 which was a particularly good year. Some books are comfort blankets (Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson), some are like the best hikes: a steady workout on the muscles accompanied by epiphany after epiphany after epiphany (Philosophy & Simulation, Manuel DeLanda). Ursula le Guin makes me forget where I am. Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome) makes me laugh out loud, and was the first book recommended to me by Angela. We’re now married. So.
Last week I was having a beer with Ben and Tom (literally everyone in this industry is called Ben or Tom or Matt), swapping sci-fi recommendations. It wasn’t for finding new books, or at least not exclusively – knowing what books someone loves is to know a person. I read 104 books in 2008, that was tough going. In the maybe 70 reading years I have available - mod a life-extending singularity cascading its way into reality - I could read a maximum 7,280 books. At all, ever. There are 6,000 books published every day. Knowing what books someone loves is to know their perspective and their journey, to have something special in common, to share a language.
I heard once that geeks come in two flavours: those who read A Thousand Plateaus; those who read Godel, Escher, Bach.
I’m ATP through and through. It changed my life. Here’s chapter 1 as a PDF, I used to keep it printed by the door to give out to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a philosophy roller coaster, a call to arms. Didn’t get on with GEB.
I’m Starship Troopers not Dune, The Beatles not the Stones.
Anyway, I like to collect book recommendations. Sometimes I even read the books. At conferences, for years, I’ve asked people for their 3 recommendations.
Not favourites. Not the books they think I ought to read. Just 3 recommendations, whatever’s on their mind. I try to find a board and some post-its and get people to share. Here are some recommendations from Design Engaged in 2004 where I met so many friends for the first time. Here’s Matt Jones’ version of the same question from Foo in 2014 – I wasn’t there, but touchingly the board is titled “The Matt Webb question: What 3 books should I read this year?” Thank you! I’ll be at Foo in a couple of weeks, let’s do the same session.
I love to share my recommendations with other people. Here are the books I read in April and May 2015.
So I made a website.
At Machine Supply I can make a book recommendation by pasting in an Amazon link and writing a short paragraph. Then when I share a link to that (on my blog or on Twitter), my reason comes joined together with two Amazon links… one to the US site and one to the UK site. That’s always been a niggle for me, to bundle those things together, to make a recommendation which is easy to share.
I’m classing this as a hobby, which means I’m trying to make the kind of website that I’d use. I’m not a hugely early adopter generally. I don’t spend much time kicking the tyres of online services, I need encouragement to keep using things because I’m enormously forgetful, and I’m hugely sceptical about putting words I write into other people’s databases rather than plain text on my own laptop.
All of which means – that’s what I’m making. A website to make it easy for me to share book recommendations. Here’s my recommendation for The Peripheral (William Gibson), and here it is again as it appears on Twitter.
What was amazing – and honestly what I hoped would happen, and what I’ll make sure the site encourages to happen, but didn’t know whether it would happen or not - what was amazing is that a few friends tried out Machine Supply when I tweeted about it yesterday.
And already I’ve seen @blech recommended Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo. (Now bought on Amazon.) And @chrbutler recommended The Book of Strange New Things - which I also love - and by the way mentioned four other books, one of which is a deeply loved favourite of mine, and the other three I hadn’t heard of. So those are now on my books-to-check-out list.
As it says on the front page,
Current status: Pre-pre-alpha, hobby. Links will break. Cities will fall.
I’ve got a hobby! Haven’t had one of those in a while.
Have a play. Let me know if anything breaks. My aim is to make a handy, finely-tuned little crystal. Any and all ideas welcome.