Good Books for Summer Reading?

It’s summertime, so I’m looking for a bunch of fun books to read. I just ordered two books by John Scalzi (Fuzzy Nation and The God Engines), two books by Dean Karnazes because I’m training to run a marathon (Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss and Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner), plus Zero Day: A Novel by Mark Russinovich. I’ll let you know how they turn out.

I’ve gotten some great suggestions for good books to read in previous years. Here’s how I expressed my summertime reading preferences early on:

Okay, I’m looking for fun, light reading for my vacation. I don’t want search stuff, I don’t want heavy reading, I don’t want geopolitics or history.

Things like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Or Terry Pratchett. Or early William Gibson. Cheesy cyberpunk if they don’t get the computer stuff too wrong. Neil Gaiman. Transmetropolitan.

Based on that, what books would you recommend for fun summer reading?

Goal: getting email under control

Each year I try to settle on a small set of big goals for the year. Last year my big goal was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. This year, I settled on 2-3 goals I wanted to achieve:

1. Go skydiving. I was with a group of ~15 people in January and we realized that no one in the room had gone skydiving or run a marathon. Both sounded fun, so I made them goals for this year. I met some great folks at Foo Camp a couple weeks ago who had been skydiving, and this past weekend we went skydiving together:

Matt skydiving at 8000 feet or so

It was a lot of fun; I’d recommend skydiving to anyone. You’re up high enough that a fear of heights doesn’t come into play… much. (If you live in the Bay Area, I went to Bay Area Skydiving in Byron, California and had a great experience.)

2. Run a marathon. This goal came from the same group in January where no one had run a marathon. I’ve been training for a couple months now and I’m up to nine miles on my long runs. Unless I’m injured, I think I’ll run a marathon this year. (By the way, USA FIT is a great organization in a bunch of U.S. cities where people get together to train for running a marathon.)

3. Get my email under control. This is a recent goal, but it might be the most important. Email is flawed in a lot of ways. Some wise people have referred to it as a “to-do list that anyone can add to.” It’s typically a poor use of time: you’re often talking to someone 1:1 when those cycles would be better spent working on something that will help a broader range of people or to realize a broader goal. Emails can take a long time to craft compared to other ways to communicate. Email is near-universal, but it lacks good ways for better processing or prioritizing (e.g. “show me the five least useful mailing lists” I get). Lots of email is sent to too many people or is just trying to find the right person to ask a question. Email also encourages us to pay attention to things that are urgent at the expense of things that are important.

Like most people in the tech industry, email has grown into monster for me in a lot of ways. I recently had a day without meetings, and I ended up spending the entire day replying to email, and still only took care of the email that I’d received that day. That’s just not sustainable–even a little more email would mean that I could never catch up–and that’s time that I’m not talking with my team, or thinking about new ways to improve search quality, or making videos or blog posts that can benefit a lot of people.

I’ve tried various email challenges before, e.g. not replying to outside emails for 30 days or not replying to emails after 10 p.m. I don’t know what my final solution to email will be, but this is a heads-up notice that I’m going to try a bunch of things until I find a better balance. I suspect that the final answer may be fairly radical, so if you’re hoping for an email reply from me, you should probably lower your expectations to zero. I’m going to try not replying to outside-Google emails for a while and then adjust things more over time.

Email is a big part of the problem, but I’ll probably have to say “no” more often as well. Please be patient with me while I try to recalibrate. I want to make sure that I spend my work time in the best way I can.

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