An Ode to Reading on Public Transit

It’s easy in our fast-paced digital age to forget how expansive time can be. An hour can zip by if you’re scrolling through Twitter or drag on for days during an exam. Once I started carrying magazines, my bus rides began to feel longer; the 45 minutes to Station North felt like 45 minutes. Soon, I began carrying books again, a habit that felt as comfortable as muscle memory. My progress was slow at first. I traveled with Swing Time for three months (and wrote a review that you can read here). I carried Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland in my tote during January. I devoured Song of Solomon in a week and God Help the Child after work one night. In the past six months, I’ve finished 15 novels, a record beating last year’s two—excluding every novel I skimmed or never completed for school. My thoughts have since kaleidoscoped; my dreams have evolved; my concentration has slowly but surely fortified over time. My political convictions deepened and expanded like the Texan sky. I use social media less and less each day, all because I stopped looking out the window on the way home.

The Millions : An Ode to Reading on Public Transit

I need reminding of this sort of thing once in a while. I’ve read quite broadly and deeply this year, but I could with unfollowing a few people on Twitter and subscribing from a handful of RSS feeds.

Fran Lebowitz on reading

There’s a great interview with Fran Lebowitz in the New York Times:

When do you read?

Pretty much all the time. Especially if I’m supposed to be doing something else. I was very frequently punished for reading as a child because I was reading when I was supposed to be doing homework. I got in trouble in school for reading, I got in trouble at home for reading. My mother would actually bang on my door and say, “I know you’re reading in there!” In my adult life, I’ve gotten in trouble for reading because I’m not writing when I’m reading. So it’s really rare that reading is unaccompanied by guilt for me. But I’ve learned to live with it. I feel guilty pretty much all the time.

The only time I read without feeling guilty is on a plane, because what else could I possibly be doing?

What moves you most in a work of literature?

I think it might be the word “move” that kind of perplexes me, because that’s a word connected with emotion. I don’t really seek out emotion when reading. The feeling that’s most important to me when reading is that I’m absorbed. I just want to be taken away. I really like being dazzled. That would be nice. The thing I care least about in reading is the story. I just don’t care that much about stories. That may have to do with being older. Tell me a story I don’t know.

But really, I read in order not to be in life. Reading is better than life. Without reading, you’re stuck with life.

I also highly recommend two other Lebowitz interviews.

First, a 1993 piece in The Paris Review (side note: always worth reminding people of this tweet):

You never enjoyed writing?

I used to love to write. As a child I used to write all the time. I loved to write up until the second I got my first professional writing job. It turns out it’s not that I hate to write. I hate, simply, to work. I just hate to work, period. I am profoundly slothful. Practically inert. I have no energy. I never have. I just have no desire to be productive. Now that I realize I don’t hate to write, that I just hate to work, it makes writing easier.

And The Awl from 2012:

I’ve read about other artists and writers who lived through the worst of the AIDS epidemic and felt like they had to take a break from their art. While reading your book, I wondered if that might have been the case with you, because the world you described was essentially obliterated.

It is exceptionally charitable that you call these 900 years “a break” but I’ll take that. And yes, it was very shocking to live through. It’s always shocking to young people when their contemporaries die. Even in a war, it’s shocking. I mean, as a soldier. It was shocking, especially because we were the only generation that thought sex was really good, like vitamins. We thought that about drugs too, okay? Sex was really good and the more sex the better. It was helpful. Like now, the way people think of bike riding, which I think is a childish activity. I know people now think the bike is a sign of virtue and I think it’s a toy, but we said sex was good for you and it turned out to it could be bad for you. Really bad. And yeah, people became terrified, of course. People were “terror-stricken” is the term I would use. And because when you look at it in retrospect, like all things you look at in retrospect, it seems very linear. The great thing about history is that it’s in the past and people have time to compile a narrative, but that’s not how it seems when you are living through it.

(NYT piece via Kottke)

How to keep a reading journal

Sarah Ditum:

I don’t really – not really-really – know anything until I’ve copied it out, by hand, with pen and paper. Note-taking helps me to memorise the most useful, interesting, beautiful or aggravating parts of a book. It also means that whenever I want to retrieve a reference from something I’ve read, I can find it in my notebook. Not marked with a torn-up train ticket and then replaced on a bookshelf but I’ve forgotten which bookshelf, or given to a charity shop in the hopeful belief I’d never need to think about it again; but in my notebook, with a page number, marked on the contents page.

Ditum goes on to describe her method and tools. See also this post about keeping a journal and collecting.

The current abbrev trend has been increasing

1: Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared 5

I hadn’t seen or heard of the previous five episodes of this bafflingly brilliant series.

2: Ermahgerddon: The untold story of the ermahgerd girl

Meet Maggie Goldenberger, who helplessly watched an Internet meme spawn from her awkward adolescent photo. Except, maybe the “Gershberms” girl never existed at all?

3: The biggest man: understanding Andre the Giant, wrestling’s massive, indefinable contradiction

Andre Roussimoff, a.k.a. Monster Roussimoff, a.k.a. Monster Eiffel Tower, a.k.a. Géant Ferré, a.k.a. Giant Machine, a.k.a. Andre the Giant, was neither particularly childlike nor particularly averse to fly-hurting. Very large men who deal in violence for a living are seldom unchanged by what they do, even when the violence is mostly symbolic and theatrical, as it was for Andre.

4: Jonathan Gliniak’s answer to ‘What are the best true scary stories?’

About 7 years ago I got an invitation to attend my cousins dinner party. I have never seen my cousin before and only spoke to him on the phone. I was surprised that his family unexpectedly invited me after all these years.

5: A melody written by a crowd

This is an experiment in crowd-sourced songwriting. A melody is currently being generated, note by note, in real-time, using the popular vote of the crowd.

Will the Wisdom of the Crowd create something special?

6: Elliott Smith is sad, like you

The singer, who died on October 21, 2003, always maintained that he loved making his music, even as his music usually claimed that he didn’t love much at all.

7: Cast of characters

Taking a closer look at new Medium fonts: Charter and Kievit.

8: Wind and solar keep getting cheaper and cheaper

The report was based on analysis of some 55,000 projects around the world, says Henbest. And it found that globally, onshore wind now on average costs $83 per megawatt-hour of electricity ($2 cheaper than in the first half of the year), and thin film solar photovoltaics costs $122 per megawatt-hour — a drop of $7 in just half a year.

That presents an increasingly favorable comparison with fossil fuels — though it still depends greatly on where you are located. Coal-fired electricity cost $75 per megawatt-hour in the Americas, but $105 in Europe. Gas-fired generation cost $82 in the Americas and $118 in Europe, on average, the report found.

9: I went under the sheets of New York’s professional cuddling industry — here’s what I found

Liza Stahl’s head bobbed gently as it rested on my chest; her breathing was calm and measured. With my left arm I held her close to me. We joked and giggled as our bodies intertwined. It was a spectacular day; sunlight poured into her East Harlem, New York City, apartment. It was a scene from a movie. In another world, she was my girlfriend; in another place, we were madly in love.

Stahl, however, was not my girlfriend, and we were not in love. In fact, we had only met minutes before. Stahl (which is not her real name) is a professional cuddler, and for $80 an hour, she will cuddle, spoon, comfort and caress just about any man who walks through her door.

10: Why are your fav abbrevs totes legit hard to spell?

Linguist Rebecca Starr points out that while there are some earlier abbrevs, like commish (from commissioner) from 1910 and delish from 1920, the current abbrev trend has been increasing since the mid-2000s.

The interesting thing about abbrevs is that they’re based on sound, not on spelling. Just think about how we have to respell certain words when making them into abbrevs, such as delish, presh, profesh, unfortch, and sitch. And with words like funksh (function), relash (relationship), fuche (future), natch (naturally), or sosh (sociology), you might not even be able to tell from the abbrev what the original word was.

11: Mike Rugnetta’s answer to “how do I read interesting and challenging stuff?”

Ah! This is a great question! And one I don’t think have a great answer to. My interest in reading difficult stuff didn’t really develop until well after I was in a position to be taught, by professional Readers of Difficult Stuff, how to do so. BUT! I’ve learned some things on my own and they work for me and maybe they’ll be of some assistance?

12: Subscribe by email

Most readers of this blog subscribe by RSS. If you’d rather get posts by email, or know someone else who might like to, visit the subscribe page.

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder

1: Karaoke ebooks

This is terrific. As you might guess from the ebooks part of the name, it creates Markov chains from your tweets, but it forms rhyming couplets and sets them to MIDI music. Brilliant.

2: Stop your team using technical terms and jargon – disambiguity

Most weeks I am ridiculed by someone for insisting on plain language – avoiding acronyms and technical language / jargon in particular. People tell me that I’m slowing the team down by making them use proper words, and that their end users or stakeholders expect them to use technical language.

These things are both true. You should still use plain language.

3: Across the USA by train for just $213

Traveling coast-to-coast across the United States by train is one of the world’s greatest travel experiences. Amazingly, it’s also one of the world’s greatest travel bargains — the 3,400-mile trip can cost as little as $213.

4: Scenes from our unproduced screenplay: ‘Strunk & White: Grammar Police’

BEAT COP
It’s over here, detectives. The body was found about an hour ago.

STRUNK
Use the active voice, rookie.

5: As the Guardian Berliner format turns ten, we look back at a decade of design change

Ten years ago this month the Guardian launched its Berliner format. We talk to its creative team about a decade of rapid change at the paper, and examine how design is now more important than ever in helping us navigate an increasingly complicated media landscape…

6: How to Have 106 babies (and counting)

Ed Houben is Europe’s most virile man. And after years of donating sperm the “normal” way (sterile room, cup, cash), he and some women looking to get pregnant for free began cutting out the middlemen and getting it done as nature prefers it (sex!). Today, Houben has over a hundred children—and Ed the Babymaker is in greater demand than ever. We imagine you have some questions

7: How Spotify’s Discover Weekly cracked human curation at internet scale

The algorithms behind Discover Weekly finds users who have built playlists featuring the songs and artists you love. It then goes through songs that a number of your kindred spirits have added to playlists but you haven’t heard, knowing there is a good chance you might like them, too. Finally, it uses your taste profile to filter those findings by your areas of affinity and exploration. Because the playlist, that explicit act of curation, is both the source of the signal and the final output, the technique can achieve results far more interesting than run of the mill collaborative filtering.

8: Me Inc.

The paradoxical, pressure-filled quest to build a “personal brand.”

9: P.G. Wodehouse On The Dangers Of Literature

It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.

And:

Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.

10: Apologies To The Queen Mary turns 10

A truly terrific album gets a good anniversary review.

Apologies To The Queen Mary is far more approachable, an album that spins universal reverie out of family trauma, relational struggle, and spiritual crisis. It’s music that renders the horror and delight of life on Earth as an epic struggle we all share. “I’ll believe in anything!” Krug sings at the album’s peak, desperately reaching for a fresh start and the freedom of some anti-Cheers: “where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn.” Apologies To The Queen Mary itself can function as that kind of common ground, a set of inspiring songs many kinds of people can rally around, if only for a few fleeting moments. A decade into its history, it remains music worth believing in.

11: Future reading

I’m not entirely swayed by this piece—straw men abound—but it seems to have gotten a lot of people talking about books and reading and formats and focus, and that can only be a good thing.

From 2009 to 2013, every book I read, I read on a screen. And then I stopped. You could call my four years of devout screen‑reading an experiment. I felt a duty – not to anyone or anything specifically, but more vaguely to the idea of ‘books’. I wanted to understand how their boundaries were changing and being affected by technology. Committing myself to the screen felt like the best way to do it.

11: Nihilistic password security questions

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder?

12: WEIRD SIMPSONS VHS

Harry and the rest of the Connick Jrs

1: The rise of phone reading

Since the release of the bigger, sharper iPhone 6 and 6 Plus last September, Apple has seen an increase in the number of people downloading books onto iPhones through its iBooks app. Some 45% of iBooks purchases are now downloaded onto iPhones, an Apple spokeswoman said. Before that, only 28% were downloaded onto phones, with most of the remainder downloaded onto iPads and a small percentage onto computers.

2: Europe shouldn’t worry about migrants. It should worry about creeping fascism

The greatest threat to our “way of life” is not migration. It is that we will swallow the lie that some human lives matter less than others.

3: One of these images is Jupiter’s moon Europa, the rest are frying pans

4: ‘Space Jam’ forever: The website that wouldn’t die

How a ragtag group of young coders skirted the studio and created a pop culture sensation that’s still standing two decades later.

5: The danger of being neighborly without a permit

All over America, people have put small ‘give one, take one’ book exchanges in front of their homes. Then they were told to tear them down.

6: How SETI will understand messages broadcast by an alien intelligence

Imagine the day when we finally receive a signal from an extraterrestrial intelligence, only to find that there’s a message embedded within. Given that we don’t speak the same language, how could we ever hope to make sense of it? We spoke to the experts to find out.

7: Guy annoys girlfriend with puns at Ikea

This is funnier than it should be.

8: A conspiracy theorist’s guide to understanding Anna Kendrick’s 2012 film “Pitch Perfect.”

How long was Harry and the rest of the Connick Jrs working for the Taliban?