Posts tagged with "reading"

I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many. I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many. I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many. I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many. I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many. I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many. I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many. I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many. I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many. I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many.

I spent today reading These Days, a new novel by Jack Cheng. Since I backed the book on Kickstarter, I had my heart set on reading the hardcover instead of a digital copy. This meant that every time I felt my thumb twitch, itching to highlight a luminous passage, I had to subdue the impulse; the book was no glassy device. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to scribble in the book, either—I think because only so many hardcovers were made, and this was one of them. Eventually, I settled on taking photos of the parts I loved. There were many.

There was always something wonderful about a clean new desk, a desk free of coffee rings and loose scraps of paper, free of postcards and dead pens and blister packs of allergy medicine. A clean new desk was like an unformed block of ice, gleaming with possibility, not yet corrupted by the blaring twin suns of distraction and crude habits.

These Days by Jack Cheng

I’m reading These Days today for 24-Hour Bookclub, and this passage jumped out at me—probably because I’m on the verge of starting a new job. The belief that “everything will be perfect from now on” is irrepressible, even when I know from past experience that clean new desks always become real, messy workspaces in spite of themselves.

Books I’ve Read Lately

Since yesterday morning, I’ve been trying to make headway on a new edition of the open letter I write every now and then about what I’ve learned lately. In the beginning, I had five sections outlined: on finishing, coding, noticing, reading, and listening. I started working on the reading section because it seemed straightforward enough; just list all the books you’ve read since the end of August, right? Then add a bit of commentary where warranted.

Nope. Took forever. List seemed never-ending. Got urge to delete entirely. Then realized: maybe this belongs on my blog instead! Relief told me it was the right thing to do.

So: here are all the books I’ve read since August, filed by reason for reading. I hope that in this stack you’ll find something to love.

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Art and Convenience: Reflections on The Cultural Cold War

Cultural freedom did not come cheap. [Between 1952 and 1969], the CIA was to pump tens of millions of dollars into the Congress for Cultural Freedom and related projects. With this kind of commitment, the CIA was in effect acting as America’s Ministry of Culture. – Frances Stonor Saunders

In July 2012, I wrote:

Did you know the 1950s CIA patronized Abstract Expressionism indirectly? Neither did I! But according to [Lewis] Hyde, the whole story is detailed in a book titled The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, by Frances Stonor Saunders. 

I need to read this book.

Thanks to a mysterious sender, the book appeared on my desk a week later. I started reading it right away, finished a few months later, and let it sink in for a few months more. The Cultural Cold War is a dense, difficult, painstakingly-researched book, and it blew my mind.

Because the book was so dense and difficult—Biblical in its litanies of names, dizzying in its quick cuts between poorly-illuminated scenes—I can’t recommend it without reservation. To get a flavor of the weirdness, I’d suggest this (much) shorter news piece by the book’s author, instead: “Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’”. But if you’re looking to thoroughly upend your understanding of art, prestige, and the role of government, and you’re tireless in your search for truth, this is the book for you.

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Sunday, January 6, 2013 marked the second meeting of 24-Hour Bookclub—a reading flashmob anyone can join.

After spending the whole day reading Both Flesh and Not (the new collection of essays by David Foster Wallace), I set my trusty reading device down and recorded the track above, alternately rambling and rejoicing over the experience.

So much happened, and for one day it all hung together. But the links are fading away already, so I wanted to make sure to collect them all in one place before the reality we inhabited for a single day disappears completely!

First and foremost: all tweets (over 200!) from all readers.

In-depth conversations about each essay on Branch.

Highlights and notes on Readmill.

(And don’t miss the nice blog post Readmill wrote about 24-Hour Bookclub!)

I’m so happy that this happened, and can’t wait to see it happen again.

24-Hour Bookclub Tips

In just a few short hours, the latest edition of 24-Hour Bookclub—a reading flashmob you can join!—will begin. We’ll be reading Both Flesh and Not, the new collection of non-fiction essays by David Foster Wallace. If this time is anything like last time, I’m going to be delirious with happiness by the end of the day. I’m already kind of delirious with excitement.

Since a ton of readers are joining us for the first time, I thought I’d jot down a few examples of ways people have seized the day and new ideas we’re trying out this time. These are all things that people came up with spontaneously, though, so my number-one piece of advice is: experiment! If it seems like a good idea, try it. We’re all making this up as we go along, and that’s what makes it so fun.

You could…

  • Take a picture as you start reading. Capture the book (or the device you’re reading it on) in your natural surroundings. And if you received a membership card in the mail…might we suggest using it as a bookmark?
  • Pull quotes that catch your attention and post them to Twitter. Make sure to add the hashtag #24hourbookclub to all your tweets so that we can find them!
  • Throw an in-person reading party with friends. Last time, people in San Francisco got together to read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in Dolores Park with bagels. This time, people are gathering in Brooklyn to read together and eat coffee cake. That’s so cool.
  • Write more than 140 characters on Branch! Thanks to Libby and Josh at Branch, we’re all set up with a shiny new Branch group for 24-Hour Bookclub. Click “ask to join” and we’ll let you right in once it’s Sunday morning where you are. We’ve set up separate branches for each essay in the collection. Once you finish reading “The (As it Were) Seminal Importance of Terminator 2,” for instance, you can hop on over to the associated branch and see what other people have to say, as well as adding your own thoughts. Branch and Twitter are complementary; Branch emanates quiet purpose and lively civility, where Twitter is all chaos and bright light. I’m excited to see them coexist!
  • Highlight in Readmill as you go along. I did this for my original solo book-in-a-day experiment and I can’t wait to do it again for Both Flesh and Not. When Matthew from Readmill interviewed me and Max over email, I realized that “calm and exhilaration are two sides of the same coin: books were made for immersion, and no experience is more immersive than Readmill.” If you’d like, you can follow my real-time highlights and notes here.
  • Share your thoughts out loud with SoundCloud. I love the image of a time-shifted in-person bookclub…all of us sitting around a kitchen table, talking once we have things to say. SoundCloud’s mobile apps are great for recording audio on the fly—I use their iOS app pretty much every day.

Or…just quietly read, and know that you’re in good company. I love playing with new tools, and I love that so many 24-Hour Bookclub readers do, too. But books are our first love, and if solitude feels truest to you, then that’s what you should do. This can be whatever we want it to be, and if all you need is the license to throw yourself into a book for a day…well, dear reader, we will give that to you in a heartbeat.

I hope to see you in the morning! Thank you for being a part of this.

24-Hour Bookclub Recap: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

As an observer, I always like to hear about things go—how the story turns out. I read all kinds of announcements online, but reflections are my favorites. So here goes one of those.

Last week, I wrote that I’d be reading Robin Sloan's new novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, in one marathon day for 24-Hour Bookclub, a new thing Max Temkin and I started. Max followed up with a post of his own.

On Friday, I went to the grocery store and picked up some snacks for the day: yogurt, apples, jack-o’-lantern chocolates. That night, I had trouble going to sleep—I was too excited. Looking forward to the marathon day evoked that old Christmas Eve feeling in me: total, gleeful anticipation.

Woke up in the morning, realized that a few people had already tweeted at @24hourbookclub wondering if they could begin. Not everyone lives in the same time zone! I apologized quickly, then posted a stream of stage-setting tweets. (Use the hashtag, tweet your thoughts, have fun—we’re not rule sticklers, and besides, we’re making this up as we go along.)

Then I dug into the book. And oh wow. The book was so good. It stayed good the whole way through, but it had the special quality of grabbing me from the first sentence. I knew I could count on Robin to write something fun and real.

I poked my head up every couple of chapters to check Twitter, reply to people, retweet fun thoughts. My double bed (my favored reading place, aka the only comfortable surface in my dorm room) became command central: computer at my side, phone blinking with Twitter notifications, book nestled in the folds of the comforter whenever I had to set it down.

At one point, Ed Cormany and I tweeted almost exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. I took a screenshot just seconds later:

In that moment, I felt so ridiculously connected.

All in all, over 25 people read the book as part of 24-Hour Bookclub. (I asked for names and addresses afterward for a small surprise we’re planning, which is how I know with such specificity.) I collected over 150 tweets into a mammoth Storify. I made some new friends, and strengthened old friendships. When I saw photos of dear friends in San Francisco sitting and reading the book together in Dolores Park, my heart nearly exploded. Really, what could be better than reading together?

I finished the book in the early afternoon. This was around when the first wave of readers finished, too, so I tweeted out some congratulations. For the rest of the day, I watched as others crossed the finish line, celebrating with them as they did. As for me, I didn’t want the day to be over. In the end, I went back to the beginning and started again.

On Reading the Reader

Today on Twitter, Robin Sloan highlighted a recent article by Laura Miller on the tremendous rise of the Hunger Games series of books, calling the article “the best media writing of 2012.” After reading it myself, I’d have to agree.

In the grand tradition of Snarkmarket, I thought I’d post a handful of big block quotes as an enticement to read the whole thing.

Personal recommendations still hold formidable power:

…it’s essential to grasp the central, maddening paradox that confronts all book marketers, from venerable New York publishing houses to tiny independent presses: The only thing that reliably sells books is word of mouth, preferably a personal recommendation from a trusted friend.

On what happens inside publishing houses, and the surge of enthusiasm that’s hard to fake:

Scholastic employees began eagerly passing the manuscript around the office. It was the first stirring of what would become a tidal wave of word of mouth. “When you have the kind of book,” said Rachel Coun, executive director of marketing, “where assistants from other departments, even though it’s not their job, come asking for the galleys because they’ve heard it’s really great, you know you have something.”

Writing for television gave Suzanne Collins a knack for cliffhangers:

Before she turned to books, Collins, who has a background in theater, wrote children’s television shows for Nickelodeon. “I think that writing for episodic television, knowing that you have to have that rising and falling tension, and end that episode at a particular place, has served her very well,” said her agent, Rosemary Stimola.

Sometimes, plainness is the best signifier of excellence:

In January, the book’s marketing team decided to send out photocopies of the manuscript instead of the nicely bound proofs that are typically submitted to industry professionals before the finished version of a book comes off the presses…Just as significant as the timing, a choice like this is part of an informal semaphore system between publishers and the all-important first readers of any new children’s book. A Xeroxed, plastic-comb-bound manuscript conveys both urgency and the conviction that here’s a title that doesn’t need attractive packaging to make an impression.

Stars are still made on semi-private channels:

Every children’s bookseller and librarian I contacted for this article belongs to at least one listserv where they constantly evaluate new books with their peers.

The ability to read your readers may be the greatest skill of all:

A school librarian like Alli Decker, head librarian at St. Mark’s School in San Rafael, Calif., may not have Oprah’s reach, but she’s got a lot more depth when it comes to putting a book in the hands of one of her students. “In the best-case scenario,” she explained, “I know them from first grade, when they start to read independently, on up. I know who I can challenge and who I can’t. I know who is willing to try something new and who isn’t.” 

Cross-reference with this passage from an interview between Tom Roberge and Dustin Kurtz, who until recently worked as a bookseller at McNally Jackson in New York; he’s now at Melville House Books. (Line breaks mine). 

Nobody comes in looking for a solidly mediocre book. The first step with any customer is asking them what they’ve enjoyed recently. “Good” is an impossibly relative term. But my general tactic is, if customers are looking for one good book, give them at least three.

Give them a book quite similar to what they said they enjoyed reading. Sometimes this will be something more obscure by the same author, or just something newer.

Second, give them something just slightly different, but still in that general strike zone.

And lastly, give them the real curveball, something that’ll whip across the plate at an angle so sharp they can’t clock it correctly. Give them something Albanian. Give them someone long dead. Give them something strange staple-bound and hard to get and perfect for them in ways you could never have known without poring over their browser history.

Most people will only buy the first two (it is very hard for them to decide to put all three back). But those readers who walk out of the place with that third book, the ones whiplashed by the spin on that last strange bit of translation, are getting something special.

What’s more, they feel like they’re getting something special. They feel like they’re engaged, like they’re unique, and hell, in most cases they’re right.

"Give them something strange [and] staple-bound and hard to get and perfect for them in ways you could never have known without poring over their browser history"—that level of attention, of understanding between two people, is electric when it happens. What I loved about Laura Miller’s article is that in reading it, I glimpsed what that kind of electricity might look like at scale.

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