When the pile of books by the side of the bed fell over, it was time for an inventory. I made three stacks: Not Started, Active, and Finished.
The books aren’t in any particular order top-to-bottom. The Not Started stack is just that—books that have piled up by the side of the bed waiting to be read. The Finished stack is also just that—books that I’m done with for the moment, but haven’t gotten around to shelving.
Looking at the Not Started stack, I see a few books that have been there for quite a while. A Random Walk Down Wall Street is one of those Must Read books, but has somehow never made it to the Must Start level. A Mist of Prophecies is from a great detective fiction series set in ancient Rome. I bought it to read on vacation, but forgot to pack it. Maybe next trip.
The Active stack is a combination of books that I’m working my way through for the first time (some of which I’ll probably only ever read a few sections of), and previously finished books that moved back into Active because I needed to look something up or wanted to reread a useful chapter. My Job Went to India is the most active of the Active (I read two chapters last night). Ajax on Rails is the latest buy. Working Effectively with Legacy Code gets returned to Active whenever I need to refresh myself on a particular set of techniques.
Building Scalable Web Sites and The War of Art are freshly finished reads; the other books in Finished are repeat visitors. (I probably won’t buy any more books on scaling sites—the information is stale by the time it makes it to paper.) Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method is headed back to Active; everything else goes to the shelves.
The stacks are heavily slanted towards technical and marketing. The few fiction books are still in the Not Started pile, for the simple reason that I tend to inhale fiction and then pass it along or return it to the library. The Not Started pile is also devoid of technical material. Again, a simple reason: I buy technical books based on need; they go right onto Active.
Like any snapshot, this one is both revealing and misleading. Looking at the stack, it’s easy to tell that I’m doing work in the “web space”, but one might suspect, seeing CSS, DHTML, and Ajax books, that I’m working on the front-end of a Rails application. True, but not entirely. The data modeling and SQL books are piled up in my study, as are books that would be more revealing about the specifics of my consulting work or current project. The C++ book on the Finished stack is a bit of misdirection. I pulled it off the shelf to re-read the sections on Commonality and Variability Analysis—a powerful, general-purpose technique that doesn’t get enough coverage elsewhere. The CSS books are to shore up a weak spot in my skill set. I can build solid web apps, but making them look good has been a challenge.