I love to read, but unfortunately I find that I retain way less than I wish. This is an attempt to remember better by summarizing what’s stuck out to me through a series of notecards. If you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to compare notes and hear what you think!
Know My Name
By Chanel Miller | January 2020
Know My Name hits home particularly hard since the assault occurred while I was attending Stanford; I distinctly remember when the story broke via the FoHo and feeling shocked by how quickly and how much detail of the assault was revealed through public records.
At the time, the assault seemed to be the worst of it. Yet what surprised me was how traumatizing the actual process of the trial is on top of the assault – Miller takes us through how her life was completely disrupted through arbitrarily delays and character attacks. For me, Know My Name crystallized the urgency for not only preventing sexual assault but also to reform the system that deters so many victims from pursuing justice.
The Lean Startup
By Eric Ries | February 2020
The Lean Startup almost feels like required reading in Silicon Valley, and I’m glad to finally have belatedly read it after hearing about it for ages. I appreciate how Ries calls out his specific definition of “startups” as not limited to the prototypical college-kids-in-a-garage, but broadened to include any endeavor which seeks to operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty. It helped me reflect on recent work experiences, particularly around how to achieve the golden standard of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop.
Certain methods Ries suggests trying that stuck out to me include: reducing batch size and selecting “people-centric” metrics. The goal? Reducing batch sizes can help shrink the time to get and bake in feedback, while aiming for “people-centric” metrics help communicate better true impact of changes and avoid hiding behind vanity metrics.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
By Ocean Vuong | February 2020
I’d read Vuong’s poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds last year on my friend Shannon’s recommendation. I appreciated how he could so vividly paint intimate vignettes of life and love. With his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, I was eager to see if I’d like it more.
He does not disappoint: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is elegant and incisive, lyrical and raw. While it didn’t quite suit my taste (sometimes the language is too beautiful), I learned so much just by watching Vuong as a master of his craft – plating each word with delicacy and surgical precision to evoke exactly what he wants you to feel.
The Customer-Driven Playbook
By Travis Lowdermilk and Jessica Rich | February 2020
I loved this playbook because it is full of actionable suggestions for teams; it distills many of the same practices and principles (i.e. “how might we”s) that I found to be highly successful when I worked as a user researcher/design intern. In particular, I really liked how Lowdermilk and Rich formalize their approach on helping teams get crisp on what the parameters would be for their products:
“We believe that [type of customers] will be successful solving [problem] using [feature] while doing [job-to-be-done]. We will know they were successful when we see [criteria].”
Other delightful tools and tips include: defining sufficient hypothesis validation as “when you cease to be surprised by people’s feedback”; Concept Value Testing; Impact/Effort Matrix; asking the “magic wand question”; how to collect and schematize customer evidence in order for it to be useful; and using GoPros on customer visits to document because they are inobtrusive and the wide-angle helps capture sense of space.
The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes
By Arthur Conan Doyle | March 2020
I’d received this complete collection nearly a decade ago as a gift but never got a chance to read it; I grew up more familiar with Agatha Christie’s Poirot than Holmes. It was so wonderful to go to the original text and see Doyle establish what would become the foundation of this detective genre. How incredible it is that he was able to set the tone and conventions for an entire lineage of work across media! Shortly after finishing this collection, I’d watched Rian Johnson’s Knives Out and was delighted to see how my expectations of a whodunnit, defined by Doyle’s work, were so thoroughly upended to really amplify the payoff of the twist. I’m really glad to have read the original source text whose influence has permeated other literature, television, film, and pop culture.
By Ali Wong | March 2020
I loved listening to this in audiobook format, narrated by Wong herself. I’d binged her Netflix standup specials and seen her on her Milk and Money Tour, so it was really fun to get another peek into the person behind it all. What really stuck out to me was understanding better how she hustled in her early years, going to every open mic to hone her material and never shied from tanking and failing. That because she loved performing standup so much, bombing never really mattered in the end.
Children of Blood and Bone
By Tomi Adeyemi | March 2020
This was such a fun read. I never watched Avatar: The Last Airbender as a kid, but I binged the whole television series the summer before I started college and fell in love with its magic. Learning about Adeyemi’s Orïsha feels like diving back into that world. The questing, the adventure, the allegory of ongoing social issues through fantasy: all are things I loved about Children of Blood and Bone. It goes one step further than Avatar in raising the stakes for its characters, never shying away from depicting loss and brutality that is the natural result of the injustice both seek to highlight. It feels more mature and honest, even if reading it feels gutwrenching.
By Tommy Orange | April 2020
Reading There There brought up so many memories for me, ranging from: being back in the Bay Area and riding BART daily, to attending powwows and watching tiny tots in regalia, to revisiting conversations I’d had with close friends around racial and national identity, to being as entranced as Orvil was the first time I’d listened to A Tribe Called Red on the drive back from watching Manahatta.
I loved how Orange articulated questions I’ve held for a long time, but could never quite find the right words: if identity is about connection to a tradition or culture, how can you do that in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s stuck in the past? How can you connect to a heritage that you don’t know if you can claim in a way that doesn’t feel like “dress-up” or posturing? What does it mean to belong to a group? How are these questions complicated or elucidated by multiracial identity?
Works that connect to There There for me: This Land by Rebecca Nagle, that helped me understand Native identity as political nationhood rather than racial blood quantum. Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldúa, that helped me understand mixed cultures.