There is a lot of downtime in a modern tech workers life. From meetings to waiting for deployments to finish, you can spend a lot of time watching a progress bar. Or maybe you've been banging your head against a problem all day, getting nowhere. Perhaps the endless going from one room of your apartment to another that is modern work has driven you insane, dreading your "off-time" of sitting in a different room and watching a different screen.
I can't make the problems go away, but I can give you a little break from the monotony. Take advantage of one of the perks of forever WFH and read for 5-10 minutes. I find the context switching to be a huge mental relief and it makes me feel like I'm still getting something out of the time. I've tried to organize them for a variety of moods, but feel free to tell me on Twitter if I'm missing some.
Watching a progress bar
Got something compiling, deploying or maybe just running your tests? Here's some stuff to read while you wait.
A funny and insightful look into the history of how modern rocket fuel was developed. The writing style is very light and you can pick it up, read a few pages, check on your progress bar and get back to it. This is a part of the Space race story I didn't know much about.
A history of Taxonomy in the United States and the story of one of its stars, David Starr Jordan. It is a wild story, touching on the founding of Stanford University, the history of sterilization programs in the US and everything between. The primary theme is attempting to impose order among chaos, something I think many technology workers can relate to. I was hooked from the intro on.
Picture the person you love the most. Picture them sitting on the couch, eating cereal, ranting about something totally charming, like how it bothers them when people sign their emails with a single initial instead of taking those four extra keystrokes to just finish the job-
Chaos will get them. Chaos will crack them from the outside - with a falling branch, a speeding car, a bullet - or unravel them from the inside, with the mutiny of their very own cells. Chaos will rot your plants and kill your dog and rust your bike. It will decay your most precious memories, topple your favorite cities, wreck any sanctuary you can ever build.
A mistake is a lesson, unless you make the same mistake twice.
This is a great thriller, crime novel that is easy to pick up and burn through. The first chapter might be some of the tightest writing I've seen in awhile, introducing everything you need and not wasting your time. It's all about the last job a wheel-man needs to pull, a classic in these kinds of novels. Great little novel to pick up, read for 15 minutes and put back down.
This is the history of Forensics as told through a series of cases, making each section digestable in a limited amount of time. While there is an understandable amount of skepticism about some areas of forensics, this book really sticks to the more established scientific practices. Of particular interest to me is why you might use one tool over another in different situations.
You are frustrated by a problem and want a break
Maybe you've thrown everything you have at a problem and somehow made it worse. Is that project you inherited from the person who no longer works here an undocumented rats nest of madness? Go sit in the beanbag chairs your office provides but nobody ever intended for you to sit in. You know the ones, by the dusty PlayStation that serves as a prop of how fun your office is. Take a load off and distract yourself with one of these gems.
I know, you saw the movie. The book is a classic for a good reason. It's funny, it is sad and the characters are incredibly authentic. However the biggest reason I recommend it for people needing a short mental break from a problem is it is written in a Scottish accent. You'll need to focus up a bit to get the jokes, which for me helps push problems out of my head for a few minutes.
"Oh, Fortuna, blind, heedless goddess, I am strapped to your wheel," Ignatius belched. "Do not crush me beneath your spokes. Raise me on high, divinity."
If you have never had the pleasure of reading this book, I'm so jealous of you. Ignatius J. Reilly is one of the strangest characters I've ever been introduced to in a book. His journey around New Orleans is bizarre and hilarious, with a unique voice I've never read from an author before or since. You'll forget what you were working on in seconds.
“One of my favorite things about New York is that you can pick up the phone and order anything and someone will deliver it to you. Once I lived for a year in another city, and almost every waking hour of my life was spent going to stores, buying things, loading them into the car, bringing them home, unloading them, and carrying them into the house. How anyone gets anything done in these places is a mystery to me.”
Written by the hilarious Nora Ephron, it is an honest and deeply funny commentary about being a woman of a certain age. She's done it all, from writing hits like When Harry Met Sally to interning in the Kennedy White House. If you are still thinking about your problem 5 pages in, you aren't holding it right.
It's from the late 1800s, so you will need to focus up a bit to follow the story. But there is a reason this comedic gem hasn't been out of print since it was introduced. It's the story of three men and a dog, but on a bigger level is about the "clerking class" of London, a group of people who if they lived today would likely be working in startups around the world. So sit back and enjoy a ride on the Thames.
You hate this work
We've all been there. You realize that whatever passion you had for programming or technology in general is gone, replaced with a sense of mild dread every time you open a terminal and go to the git repository. Maybe it was a boss telling you that you need to migrate from one cloud provider to another. Or maybe you found yourself staring out a window at someone hauling garbage and think well at least they can say they did something at the end of the day. I can't solve burnout, but I can allow you to indulge those feelings for awhile. Then back to the git repo, you little feature machine! We need a new graph for that big customer.
A successor to the much-enjoyed Into the Ruins, this quarterly journal of short stories explores a post-industrial world. However this isn't Star Trek, but instead stories of messy futures with people making do. When it all feels too much in the face of climate change and the endless cycle of creation and destruction in technology, I like to reach for these short stories. They don't fill you with hope necessarily, but they are like aloe cream for burnout.
This is an anthology of the short stories published the now-gone Archdruid Report. They're a little strange and out there, but it's a similar energy to New Maps.
If you want to escape modern life for a few hours and go to the 1950s South, this will do it. It's here, the good and bad, not really short stories but more a loosely combined collection of stories. If you've never been exposed to Eudora Welty’s writing, get ready for writing that is both light and surprisingly dense, packed full of meaning and substance.
This is a story of normal people living ordinary lives in England, after World War One. There is a simplicity to it that is delightful because it's not a trick. You will start to care about what happens to this community and the entire thing has a refreshing lack of gravity to it. It's a beach read, something to enjoy with low stakes but will stick with you days after you finish it.
What's not to enjoy about an Italian noble who leaves everything behind to live in a tree for the rest of his life? About as right to the point as you can get, but it is also about the passing of an age in civilization, which feels appropriate right now.