Essay

How I read

March 13, 2017

I love to read. I read a lot. I have my reading system and my reading lists and a list of my monthly faves in my newsletter. I use Goodreads for tracking the books I’ve read and set an annual goal. I approach reading with the nerdish focus of an olympian. It is a core facet of my self care, of my work, of how I understand the world and what I hope to contribute to it.

I also spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m reading, what I should be reading more of and where my blindspots are. I find most of my reading material via my RSS feeds, my favourite aggregators, newsletters and reading lists. I try to be led by my own instincts as much as possible. I do try to read people I disagree with. But mostly, I use my reading as a way to find spaces where I see myself reflected. If something is cropping up everywhere, I will try to read it even if I’m not that interested in it. (like this piece on black male sexuality.)

I rarely buy magazines or newspapers.  The physical mass of stuff is wasteful and inconvenient. I’d buy the Sunday papers and end up with a mountain of recycling and maybe 3 articles that’ll stick with me longer than the time it took to read them. 3 is ambitious, usually it was less than that.

Traditionally, women’s magazines have served advertisers more than they’ve served women. It’s boring to be sold stuff I don’t need to fix problems I didn’t know I had. (My pores are grand, thanks!) That’s changing. Women’s magazines have gotten better at thinking of women as being interested in more than fashion and beauty. Two topics which strike me as among the most boring on the planet.

One of the pleasures of the internet is finding fresh angles on cliched topics. For fashion stuff, I like some theory, some minimalism, some sustainability. This series captures a more holistic concept of beauty – like this one about running as an anti-depressant

Reading is an opportunity to follow your own instincts and tastes. In the intersections of those ideas, I find something that resonates uniquely with me. Following the threads of the internet makes reading a more communal experience too, a means to connect with like minds.There’s a kind of intellectual intimacy in it. I try to weave in some non-timely work too, so it’s not all hot takes and flashes in the internet pan.

The internet puts a premium on individual voices. I love to follow an interesting mind at work, across a whole range of topics. I like opinion columnists who look at data, who do some reporting, who go do something and tell us about it.

This discursive marketplace of ideas shapes the writing landscape too. There’s a sizeable difference between what we say we read and what we actually read. That’s most obvious when the long, worthy story that takes 90 mins to read is tweeted dozens of times just as it goes live. There were countless “how did Trump happen?” stories circulating just prior to the election (back when we thought it was a lark and not a reality). They were popular on social and so likely to get funded, even though we maybe didn’t need 30 versions of the same piece.

We curate our lists to communicate something about who we are. It’s a performative practice. As a reader, I’m loyal to aggregators and curators more than publications or brands which, of course, changes the economic and landscape for writers.

The challenge here is in the technology. The iPad is the best for reading, though it’s not ideal. I have a kindle, though I don’t love it. It’s not unusual for me to spend most of the day in front of a screen. By the time I close my eyes, there are tingly and sore.

Instapaper can be annoyingly buggy too, which frustrates me endlessly. Reading the internet has no end point. I am perpetually battling to keep my queue under 50 – a goal I’ve achieved only a handful of times. Every so often, I go cull it ruthlessly and it still remains above 100 pieces to be read. The pace of the internet churn cycle can be exhausting/overwhelming. It can shape your brain in all kinds of crappy ways. I’m embarrassed at how my attention wavers while I’m reading an actual book, even one I’m really enjoying.

Reading in bed on a weekend morning feels like such an unbelievable luxury, especially if it was a tough week. After reading for a few hours, I feel the internal seas calm and the squalls pass. Not everything is resolved, it is not perfect but it is better. I do not feel that this time was a waste. Often, I’ll have learned something, felt something, laughed or (very occasionally) cried. But more than that, reading gives me a priceless sense of grounded-ness.

Further reading:

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