Posts in #read-differently

Discovering Myself As A Reader in 2020 So I Can Reinvent My Reader-Self in 2021

Person browsing for books between library shelves

The Project

The end of the year is a time for introspection and as much as year 2020 of the common era has felt endless, it is the first day of the last month of the year. After nine months I'm feeling my areas of struggle VERY acutely. My attention span and executive function are fragile and I'm vulnerable to my depression symptoms. I have also discovered new things to be curious about, new skills, and new areas of research; but these need tending and care before they can bear fruit. Acknowledging the challenges of the former and the opportunities of the latter I'm making an effort to become more aware of how I'm reading now and more intentional about how I'm going to go about reading in the new year. To do this, I'm breaking down my reading into four broad categories: news & social media, professional & research, pleasure, and hobby. I'll examine what I'm currently doing and then later plan how I might change this next year. As a note, I have a large bias towards text in how I think about information. My education was focused on text and while I've made some beginning efforts to think as critically about video and sound as I do about text, I have further to go. So, for this project, I'll consider documentary and how-to video as "reading" but keep cinema and entertainment video separate from pleasure reading. This isn't logically consistent, but it's where I am.

News & Social Media

Currently I spend far too much time on Twitter. It is the place where I connect with my friends, explore and express my values, professionally network, and pleasurably waste time. I can't live without some of those things, but I feel the need to manage it to better effect. The problem is I don't have an "off switch" when it comes to Twitter. Left to my own devices, it consumes my attention when I need to focus elsewhere. So in 2021, I'll need a plan. For now I'm tentatively considering taking a break for the month of December while I consider alternatives. For news, in 2020 I subscribed to the Washington Post. I'm not planning on continuing that subscription, but I need an alternative. I may subscribe to a local newspaper or I may develop a workflow for getting content from library newspaper databases on a daily basis. Another option is to listen to NPR news, which I subscribe to, but I do like reading a newspaper. So, in summary, I currently read too much Twitter and the Washington Post. I need to be more intentional and disciplined with Twitter and to find an alternative news source. Right now that looks like relying more on NPR, which I can compartmentalize into scheduled listening of national and local news shows in the mornings and something with Twitter that I haven't worked out yet. It will probably include curating my lists more carefully and scheduling certain days I'm allowed to look at the lists. (Yes, this is an aspirational goal.)

Professional Reading

In 2020, my professional reading plan was on an ad hoc basis. I read when I needed to know something and then I followed threads to new research that piqued my interest. For 2021 I'll develop a plan that supports my research agenda and my professional growth agenda. I am a person with great curiosity and I can lose myself exploring threads of research across disciplines and methods, but feeding my curiosity and building a clear research agenda are not (unless you are luckier than I) the same thing. So 2021 is going to me a more disciplined and ordered year with a focus starting on metadata for describing collections of born digital literature and also on video pedagogy for library instruction. I've been told (A LOT) that 2020 has been a great year for research because we all have more time to write. Let me tell you, friends, I have not written in 2020. I've worked on an article that is mostly finished, but much of the time I feel like I'm just moving letters around the screen, alternating changes until I'm back where I started. It has not been a great year for my research productivity. So to give my writing a metaphorical trellis of support and a place to grow, I'm going to develop a schedule of reading and writing for the new year. Right now I think that will include monthly check-ins to schedule weekly article assignments and monthly blog posts about what I've read.

Pleasure Reading

I've been a subscriber to Audible for over a decade, but I'm not renewing my subscription when it expires in January. That will shake up how I do my pleasure reading a lot. I have a huge backlog of unread titles and a similar backlog of unread Kindle titles that I can work my way through once the flow of new books is cut off. Once I've caught up with my digital backlog (Veronica Mars voice-over: He was never going to catch up on his digital backlog, you know that, right Marshmallows?) I want to move away from my digital-first preference for novels. Back when digital editions were new, there was a lot of overwrought worry that digital would replace print and print needed to be defended. The least insightful defenses of print annoyed me so thoroughly that I stopped reading print books nearly entirely. (It was as if I really thought this could un-publish Nicholas Carr's The Shallows.) Well, when I've run out of backlog (ha) or REALLY need something newly published, I'm going to source it through my local public library or Annie Bloom's books. Although I may not be able to resist the attraction of Amazon ebook/audiobook packages that keep track of my place across platforms.

Hobby Reading

Much of the hobby reading material I need is online (in YouTube or message boards) but I am teaching myself more about video and filmmaking, running w/ Atrial Fibrilation, and arduino hacks. I have an excellent digital library of reference books in these subjects through Humble Bundle (all but the running stuff) but if I need more I definitely plan on using the public library. For a career librarian, I've become far too committed to the digital hoarder lifestyle and I need to remember that borrowing books is okay.

Next Steps

Now that I've looked at how I'm currently reading (recap: digitally, purchasing from Evil Overlord Jeff Bezos or by spending too much time on Twitter) I'm going to think about this for a few days and then write another post with a prescription for fixing some of the things that cause me to be disenchanted with my reading these days. Making this a strict set of inflexible instructions will not lead to changed behavior, so I'm aiming for more of a roadmap that sets out my values and my reasons for reading. Making values and justifications explicit and visible are things that can lead to me changing my behavior. If this project is something you are inspired to attempt yourself, please do share your thoughts in the comments.

Love and Light,


Book Review: The Summer Prince


I decided to read The Summer Prince based on the recommendation of Ellen Kushner and John Scalzi. I'm glad I did, I'm not a frequent reader of young adult fiction, but now I think that might be a mistake. It took me a little while to get into the swing of this book. Alaya Dawn Johnson is slow in laying down a rhythm and a melody in her pages and I stumbled along for a bit before my feet found the steps. Once I did, I enjoyed the rich and intricate dance she led me along.

The story is structured into four parts, based on the seasons and I didn't realize I loved the book until the third section. Please don't let this stop your from reading it;  I don't think it is a failing of the book. Structurally, the beginning is less interesting than the rest of the novel, but Johnson is slowly setting the stage for a moving piece. Like a musician playing a classic piece, we've heard these notes before, but she's able to give a virtuoso performance by taking the notes to a different place than we're expecting.

There are two reasons I'd recommend this book to other readers. The first is the setting. It's fabulous. Alaya Dawn Johnson has captured in her future city-state of Palmares Três a living and evocative mix of Brazilian Carnival, post-apocalyptic matriarchy, and a coming of age story that ignores our taboos. (It doesn't flaunt contemporary hang-ups, it just refuses to acknowledge their existence, making an honest and innocent coming of age story possible.) The second is the emotional depth of June's coming of age journey. Through her characters June, Enki, and Gil, Johnson is able to show us a lot about the nature of love that is sweet, tragic, and honest. She shows us a complex perspective on love that is neither cheap nor jealous but is both free and liberating.

The plot is adequate, there are all the expected pieces in their expected places. Nothing is missing, but if all this book were about is what happened in the story, it would not be remarkable. We've all read love triangles set in post-apocalyptic societies with bizarre social contests that victimize teenagers. You could draw a lot of crude lines between the structures in The Summer Prince to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games. If you did, you'd be missing the point completely. The value of the story does not lie in its genre conventions. The value of The Summer Prince lies in telling us a familiar tale that takes us to unfamiliar places.

If you read The Summer Prince, and I hope you do, here are a couple of things to think about along the way. There are two prime myths from Western culture lying at the foundations of the story. We have an expulsion from paradise myth and the willing sacrifice myth. As you read about Enki and June finding the key to knowledge of good and evil, think about the role of the serpent. Where would you expect the temptation to come from and where does Alaya Dawn Johnson put it? Second, what is Enki saving people from? What is he saving people for? I don't think these are idle questions and a lot of people have used the same central myths without the effect that Johnson manages with The Summer Prince.