What I'm reading this year

April 22nd, 2023


My learning journey has been a bit haphazard so far, driven mostly by my momentary interests and the groups and people around me. As I gear up to attend graduate school and shift into academic mode, I’ve decided to steer a bit more consciously my journey of learning, and especially in terms of reading practice.

So, three weeks ago I decided to read around one book a week for the next year. The goals here are to:

  1. Form a foundation of knowledge in the terrain of science and technology studies, and specifically critical race and digital studies.1
  2. To build a habit of reading into my daily life, because I feel like it will be useful and necessary in my graduate career.
  3. To help me build a general strength of focusing for sustained periods on difficult topics, a practice that I feel is lacking from my current rhythm of life.2

I consider myself to be more free of obligations compared to any future point in my working life, so I want to take advantage of this limited amount of time to really learn and grow. This of course means reading a substantial amount, but I I want to avoid barreling through these books for the sake of reading, forgetting things immediately after, or failing to build a sustainable habit of reading. So that has shaped my reading plan so far. To start, I know I won’t read every word of every book or to even read every book on this list. Some books will be longer but (I imagine) very rewarding, like Palo Alto, so I wouldn’t mind spending two weeks on those books. Other books, especially those from media studies, might require me to struggle a bit more and read selectively for what is most useful to me. To also help me reflect and learn, I’ve been writing a response for each book, containing a summary of the text and any criticisms I had.

The process thus far has worked quite well. I spend an hour a day or so reading, usually before bed, armed with a highlighter and pen (I recently bought an iPad and plan to annotate there, but it hasn’t arrived yet3). Each Saturday, I’ve been walking over to Uncle Bobbie’s, a local coffee and justice-oriented bookstore which I highly recommend, ordering a cold brew, and writing up my response to each book. It’s been quite nice.

what I’m reading#🠑

The reading list is below. Click on an item in the list to expand it. Please excuse some typos in the book abstracts; they came straight from Google Books (some elaboration below).

Search for:
  1. Paper Knowledge
    Lisa Gitelman
  2. Cloud Ethics
    Louise Amoore
  3. Killer Apps
    Jeremy Packer and Joshua Reeves
  4. Breathing Race into the Machine
    Lundy Braun
  5. Distributed Blackness
    André Brock Jr
  6. Custodians of the Internet
    Tarleton Gillespie
  7. Digital Black Feminism
    Catherine Knight Steele
  8. Design Justice
    Sasha Costanza-Chock
  9. The Filing Cabinet
    Craig Robertson
  10. Assembly Codes
    Matthew Hockenberry, Nicole Starosielski, and Susan Zieger
  11. Programmed Inequality
    Mar Hicks
  12. Captivating Technology
    Ruha Benjamin
  13. Autonomous Technology
    Langdon Winner
  14. Technosystem
    Andrew Feenberg
  15. Transforming Technology
    Andrew Feenberg
  16. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
    Thomas S. Kuhn
  17. Knowledge and Social Imagery
    David Bloor
  18. The Emergence of Probability
    Ian Hacking
  19. Queering the Non/Human
    Myra J. Hird
  20. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women
    Donna Haraway
  21. We Have Never Been Modern
    Bruno Latour
  22. On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods
    Bruno Latour
  23. Control and Freedom
    Wendy Hui Kyong Chun
  24. Discriminating Data
    Wendy Hui Kyong Chun
  25. The Real World of Technology
    Ursula M. Franklin
  26. Love, Robot
    Margaret Rhee
  27. Silicon Values
    Jillian C. York
  28. Two Bits
    Christopher M. Kelty
  29. Data Feminism
    Catherine D'Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein
  30. Things We Could Design
    Ron Wakkary
  31. Reassembling Scholarly Communications
    Martin Paul Eve and Jonathan Gray
  32. Information Activism
    Cait McKinney
  33. Uncertain Archives
    Nanna Bonde Thylstrup et. al
  34. Infrastructures and Social Complexity
    Penelope Harvey, Casper Bruun Jensen, and Atsuro Morita
  35. Calculated Values
    William Deringer
  36. Road to Nowhere
    Paris Marx
  37. Palo Alto
    Malcolm Harris
  38. Regional Advantage
    AnnaLee Saxenian and American Council of Learned Societies
  39. Seeing Silicon Valley
    Mary Beth Meehan and Fred Turner
  40. The Modem World
    Kevin Driscoll
  41. From Counterculture to Cyberculture
    Fred Turner
  42. More than a Glitch
    Meredith Broussard
  43. Abolish Silicon Valley
    Wendy Liu
  44. Data and Democracy at Work
    Brishen Rogers
  45. Revolutionary Mathematics
    Justin Joque

implementation notes#🠑

If you’re still reading this, I have a few implementation notes for this whole process that I think might be fun to share. The summary:

  1. I wrote down books in a markdown document during my initial brainstorming process
  2. I parsed the markdown file into an array, searched for each title on Google Books, and sent them to Zotero
  3. I used Zotero’s web API and SvelteKit’s Context API to list them on this page

I first assembled this list by writing titles and authors into a markdown document. I did this simply for convenience; as I have written elsewhere on this blog, at this point it is very comfortable for me begin typing thoughts out without waiting for a web browser or writing application to load.

I then realized I needed a way to keep track of ebooks from the internet and especially to sync them to my iPad efficiently, where I would read them. I had previously used Calibre to manage these books and sent them to my Kindle for reading, but I honestly find the Kindle a bit clunky for reading and this workflow means I have to repeat the copying process for each new book.4 So I decided to switch to Zotero for this task, after seeing positive feedback on Twitter to Zotero’s iOS app.

Because I was not enthused by the idea of creating Zotero entries one by one, as there were around 45 entries, I wrote a script to parse the markdown document for each book, to search for them on Google Books, and then to use Zotero’s connector API to send these titles to a local Zotero collection. The script to find titles on Google Books was not exact, because Google Books was missing certain books or because its search engine returned unexpected titles for a top result. So some manual pruning was necessary. The process to add these titles to Zotero was much smoother, thanks to Zotero’s connector APIs that recognize metadata on Google Books entries quite easily.

To print this list on my blog, I set up a build hook that queries Zotero’s web API to list all of the books and provide it as data to this site. I was very happy to see that Zotero does not require authentication for public-facing resources on its web API. Because this script is set up to run at build time, I can fairly easily update the list shown above if I add or remove books, or if I mark a book as being finished. The data is provided through the same mechanism as I used for my post on my RSS feeds, i.e. through SvelteKit’s Context API and my blog’s practice of storing data.json documents alongside each post when needed.

I want to be very clear that these scripts were fairly easy to write, but they still took up a few hours each to get working, enough to make this whole process definitely not be worth it from a time use perspective. I made this mostly because I think this is fun. Those who engage in this kind of work are likely familiar with this time-wasting desire — a few XKCD comics might be relevant, like #378, real programmers, and #1319, automation.

  1. I plan to reflect more specifically on my academic/intellectual interests in a separate post.
  2. This is one reason why I am choosing books for this reading journey instead of articles.
  3. Two notes for a little more context: Firstly, I ordered an iPad, but the box it came in was empty! Someone had packed and sent an empty box, or the iPad was removed in transit! Thankfully, I was able to work it out with customer support and received another one at no additional cost. Secondly, mostly for financial reasons, I plan to pirate these texts (except for a few that are not published by academic presses), which requires me to read electronically, and hence the motivation for buying the iPad.
  4. I still think the Kindle is great, but because turning pages and searching for things is quite slow, it's most useful for books you would like to read from cover to cover, rather than books where certain sections are much more relevant to my interests than others, and for books that involve flipping back and forth often to reference different parts of the text. It also isn't as useful if you'd like to annotate books, as I knew would be helpful for me for this reading journey.