My top 5 books of 2019

In 2019, one of my goals was to read 52 books – one for every week. Thankfully, I had many friends with great tastes in short books, so I powered through the year with no problems.

Now that I’m done, here are my top 5 books of 2019:

Educated, by Tara Westover

Tara Westover grew up with a family who didn’t trust hospitals, schools, and the government, and because of this the book contains anecdotes of physical and emotional trauma to a degree that was foreign to me (and I think, most people). Tracing her journey as she pursued an education – a goal violently incongruous with the world she was born into – made me grateful for the privileges I was born with, and inspired me to continue making the most of them.

Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou

I think my experience with this book can be summarized by the fact that I finished it after reading non-stop over a weekend. I left academia to pursue a career in tech because I believe that, while far from perfect, the fact that a bottom line exists, financially, means that the truth will always prevail – stuff either works or it doesn’t. The debacle that happened at Theranos is shocking in it’s depravity but ultimately, evidence that one can’t fool all of the people, all of the time.

High School, by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin

In one of their interviews promoting the book, Tegan and Sara said that they wrote this memoir with the hope that there would be something that everyone would be able to grab on to. They definitely succeeded with me, with their writing giving me nostalgic flashbacks of growing up in the nineties. More importantly, however, High School made me reflect on the person I am today, and how we’re never done with “growing up”. Reading about the lives that Tegan and Sara were living back then, then watching interviews they gave just five years ago, before comparing those images with the kind of women they are today, I get the feeling that nobody really “blooms” – we’re always “blooming”.

Creative Selection, by Ken Kocienda

I bought this book for three interns this year. On the surface, it’s the story of how the first touch-screen keyboard was designed, and details the challenges and failures along the way. As someone who grew up in lockstep with the development of the mobile phone, learning about all of this made me feel like my phone had more of a “soul”; that it represented the culmination of a thousand of people’s little hopes and dreams, rather than just an amalgamation of silicon, metal, glass, and plastic that I chuck around and stare at too much. There’s a deeper take to be had, though, and I think Creative Selection provides a really good account of what creating something, anything, should feel like. Instead of the belief that I think many of us have internalized, that creativity is the seamless transition from brain to hand, Creative Selection captures what creation is really like – lots of “better’s good”.

Under the Midnight Sun, by Keigo Higashino

Unsettling, chilling, captivating and distressingly romantic at the same time. I went into this book blind on a friend’s recommendation, and I recommend you do the same. I do, also, however, recommend that you not read this on public transport like I did. There’s a emotion that I’ve so far only felt from some Japanese books, movies, video games, and animation, and it’s a cloying feeling that implores you to accept the strange or macabre, almost fatalistically, as if starring at an impending train wreck were completely normal, which of course it is. Under the Midnight Sun is such a book, and I found myself fully willing to suspend my disbelief to immerse myself in its slow-burn, dissociative nightmare.

A Squier HM Bass

A couple of months back, I tried playing a fretless bass, and really wanted one of my own. After hunting around on Reverb for a bit, I found this gem.

In the late 80’s, Fender moved the production of its Squier line from Japan to Korea (I wrote about my Japanese-made Squier here). Together with this move, they also started producing a line of “HM” guitars and basses, meant to capitalize on the popularity of heavy metal at the time (hence, “HM”). The line lasted several years and production ended in the early 90’s.

This bass guitar is an example of one of the basses produced during this time. It has a precision bass-style split-coil pickup in the middle, as well as a jazz bass-style pickup nearer to the bridge. The previous owner added locking strap buttons (that I don’t use and will replace at some point) and lost the original knobs (the ones in the picture are replacements).

However, the biggest, most obvious modification to this guitar is that it’s fretless! The work looks really well done – the fret slots look well filled in, and the fretboard is smooth and level. However, I do find the decision to modify this particular bass an interesting one, from a purely cost perspective: The cost of removing the frets professionally probably cost half the value of the bass itself. To me, that’s a sign that the previous owner cared about the instrument, which is why I bought it.

Playing a Fender Custom Shop Strat

Earlier this month, I was back home on vacation and got to play some of my dad’s guitars. I recorded this on a (if I remember correctly) 59′ replica Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster. In the background, from left to right are: a Martin D-45, a Japanese-made Epiphone Casino, a Gibson Hummingbird, and another custom shop Telecaster Deluxe.

Random Funk

Recently, I’ve been playing the bass more, and finding out how “out of the pocket” my playing has been. One helpful way to practice this, I’ve found, is to record yourself playing over a drum or click track in a DAW, and seeing where your notes line up. For example, I have a habit of rushing on certain beats.

Anyway, this is something I recorded:


This was my first “real” guitar. We all have that friend who borrows something and then breaks it or doesn’t return it. Well, I was that friend, but to my dad, because this guitar looks almost nothing like how it did when he gave it to me (Google “black 57 Stratocaster reissue” – that’s what it looked like before). For starters, this guitar was black, and had a one-piece maple neck. It’s now yellow (after being all-black, white, then red), and has a rosewood neck. Having said that, I’ve owned this guitar for about 15 years now, which means it’s been this way longer than the state it was in when it left the factory (I believe late 90s).

It has a classic bell-like Stratocaster sound:

In contrast, I played the same piece (more or less), with my other guitar (above), which has “hotter” pickups. With headphones, you might be able to hear that the tone is thicker and warmer: