I’m a book person.
That’s what think about myself, anyway, when people ask “oh, what are your hobbies?” ‘Books and computers.’ Sometimes I combine these hobbies; I have rewritten a little app to keep track of how many books I own a couple of times now in various languages with various backends as I’ve become a better programmer; the current incarnation lives here, if you’re curious.
But my dirty secret is that I don’t actually… read much anymore. I still buy books in decent quantities (see that list above), especially considering that my fiancée and I live in a one-bedroom apartment with our cat, but very often now I find myself buying them to have them “for someday”, and I have donated a number of books out to Housing Works without ever having cracked the spines on them.
This isn’t a new problem for me; my book-buying-and-not-reading habit was really bad a decade ago when I worked at a bookstore and probably had twice as many books shoved into my bedroom in Colorado. I had so many books that I actually broke a bookshelf under the weight, a plastic piece near the bottom shattering and sending an entire 8’x8’x2’ (books stacked two layers deep) monster of a wire-and-plastic cube crashing to the ground inches from where I was sitting.
Most of the books that nearly collapsed on top of my ended up being donated to the library right before my move to New York, unread, or maybe in some lucky cases half-read. I’m much more measured and judicious with my book-buying now, perhaps a hard-won lesson from having moved even my small library around NYC a couple of times. (Appropriately, one of those books is a wonderful slim volume titled Too Many Books, which I have read.)
Western bloggers have cottoned onto the Japanese word tsundoku as a way to express “buying books and then not reading them” and I find it too clever by half, as I do with most trend pieces on “words in other languages for things we don’t have English words for” — if it was worth having a word for it, English probably would have come up with one. It’s a mongrel language with neologisms springing up every day. I just say I buy too many books.
And then I don’t read them. That’s the source of my online handle in a number of places — a lazy reader. I don’t read the books I buy and I constantly feel a little ashamed about it.
But at the same time, like so many other people, I am constantly reading. Ours is a age that is awash in text. It’s just not books. I’m constantly reading blog posts, Stack Overflow answers, Wikipedia articles, so, so, so many tweets and hot takes and lukewarm takes and reheated takes. But it’s almost all ephemera. Scroll through my pinboard (which I have been keeping pretty regularly since June of 2017) and much of what I read is about the news of the day. I find it impossible to stop; there’s a sensation that you have to be on top of the latest horrors being perpetrated in the name of your country, that to look away and read for pleasure is an abrogation of some solemn duty. It’s not and I know it’s not and yet and yet.
All of which is to say that this newsletter will probably be whipsawing between essay-ish pieces like this and shorter roundups of interesting things I find as I read across the internet. I’ll try and avoid linking to The Latest Big Piece in the Times or something — you can find that easily enough yourself — but other things that seem interesting to me and that I have something to add to.
Or maybe it’ll end up being cat photos.
We’ll find out.