Franklin Hu

Favorite Books of 2019

I read 44 books in 2019. One shy of my goal, but only ~12 hours late (I blame planes and this sinus infection).

I want to restructure the way I track to-read books away from my Books Trello Board to something that gives me a bit more control by different dimensions (time period, country/nationality), but haven’t really found anything that works well on mobile and offline (cell signal in book shops is often terrible, and that’s when I need it most). Curious if folks have tools that might work well?

As always, I’d love to hear any book recommendations you have! Hit me up at


Images of book covers

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (Caroline Criado Pérez)

If you’re going to read one book on this list, you should pick this one (especially you, men in tech).

Invisible Women explores the innumerable pervasive ways that our society assumes male-as-the-default (often white male) and how that inconveniences, discriminates against, disadvantages, and kills women.

It’s infuriating, but not hopeless. There are policies and strategies that have been shown to work, like Sweden’s paid, use-it-or-lose-it paternity leave improving female workforce participation (80% as of 2016).

Personally, the things I have most ability to directly change are around unpaid labor (familial, with my partner, etc.) and there’s a lot to reflect on.

The Chinese Typewriter: A History (Thomas S. Mullaney)

This was such a fun read. After a brief history of the first typewriters (for alphabetic languages using Roman characters), The Chinese Typewriter dives into the many (mostly failed) attempts to apply the paradigm to Chinese. People tried lots of ingenious approaches, from movable type made of decomposed parts of logograms to the eventual type-grid that found the widest adoption.

One of my favorite parts was around how Chinese was encoded for telegraph. This went through multiple iterations: taking the 10K most common characters and mapping them onto the 0000-9999 space, realizing that was slow/costly and instead encoding via 3 letters ([a-z]{3}), further refinement, etc. I feel like this might make a good lighting talk?

You and I Eat the Same: On the Countless Ways Food and Cooking Connect Us to One Another (Chris Ying)

A collection of essays from chefs, writers, and food people about how culture, politics, and how we’re more similar than not, through a food lens. It opens with an essay about flatbread (pretty much every human culture wraps food in some kind of bread) and moves through others about immigrant struggles, religion, you name it.

Really hope there’s another installment soon!

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine (Lindsey Fitzharris)

I never really know how to respond to people when they ask questions like “if you could go back to any time period in history, which one would you choose?” because, well, none of them because my life—really anyone’s of color?—would be far worse.

The Butchering Art does a great job of dispelling any romantic notions you might have of living (and getting sick) in Victorian Britain. Something wrong with a limb? We’ll amputate! You probably won’t survive, and there’s also a non-zero fatality rate of onlookers in the operating theater (C-C-C-COMBO) if they’re standing too close.

Wonderfully, narratively written!

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing)

I originally rated this pretty poorly on Goodreads, but it has popped up in conversations pretty consistently. It’s a weird book, diving into the ecology, economics, history, and ethnography around the matsutake mushroom.

I’d be into reading more deep dives on singular topics like this, and would love recs!


Images of book covers

The Fifth Season (N.K. Jemisin)

I’m late to this party, but holy cats. I’ve generally been avoiding fantasy/SF because so much of it is formulaic and uses same tired tropes. The Fifth Season isn’t that; the characters are dynamic, the world is intricate, it was a joy to read. Looking forward to continuing the series this next year!

If you haven’t seen it, N.K. Jemisin appeared on Ezra Klein’s show and they talked about her approach to world building.

Her Body and Other Parties (Carmen Maria Machado)

Dark, grisly, disturbing at times. Sort of Allende meets Edgar Allen Poe? The characters are heartbreakingly real as they make their way through a macabre and, at times supernatural, world.

Fair warning some of the stories discuss sexual abuse, so it’s probably not for everyone.

Circe (Madeline Miller)

I usually struggle with liking mythology since the characters seem pretty one dimensional and static. Miller brings Circe to life; she has wishes, suffers loss, and finds herself eventually.

Admittedly, I only realized that Circe is not Calypso about halfway through the book, and was way less confused about the larger plot once that got cleared up. Read this one in about two days on a trip, and couldn’t put it down.

Saga, Vol. 1-6 (Brian Vaughan)

Space Opera! As a graphic novel! Art and characters are great, and it seems like Vaughan has a solid idea of where the overarching story arc is going. In past years, I’ve talked about how great Lumberjanes is (it’s still great), but it’s gotten a little slow (they’re all monster-of-the-issue type arcs). Saga has definitely filled that void.

An American Marriage (Tayari Jones)

It’s a story about an African American couple who get torn apart because of bad luck, racism, our broken justice system. It reads almost like a dual-sided memoir, if those were a thing. Devastating and felt very real…