How to read, revisited

a person playing a red accordion in front of a river
TC Talk
How to read, revisited

How to turn off your inner literature professor and create a habit of reading for enjoyment.

Books mentioned

  • Dies the Fire, S.M. Sterling
  • Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
  • Republic, Plato
  • Sophie’s Choice, William Styron
  • Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney
  • Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
  • Garfield, Jim Davis
  • Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson
  • White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  • The Expanse, James S. A. Corey
  • The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Farm Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Quiet, Susan Cain
  • The Dispossessed, Ursula Le Guin
  • The Climate Book, Greta Thunberg
  • The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R Tolkien

Sources and further reading


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AWe’re TC talk, a tech comm podcast.
BMy name is Benton.
AMy name is Abi. I am a tech comm prof.
BI am not.
ABut we chat about things that are of interest to technical communication scholars, practitioners, and maybe just everyday people.
BI hope so.
AWho encounter and use tech comm in their everyday lives and perhaps even create it, without knowing that that’s what it is.
ABenton, it’s our last episode of season Two of TC Talk.
BLast one?
AAnd I thought it would be fruitful to revisit the topic of how to read. You’ll remember that was our first episode of all time.
AAnd it had gotten more listens than most, which could just be the fact that it was the first one and when people discover a podcast, they like to go back to the beginning.
BList order bias?
AAlthough there’s nothing really chronological about our topics,
ABut it could also be that this is a topic that people care about. So assuming that’s the case, I will forge ahead. I did go back to that episode to kind of see what my baseline was. And it was cringe as the kids say. But in looking back, I can see that just taking that moment to talk about it and be intentional about my reading goals and habits, et cetera. I am in a totally different place than I was then. How about you? If you can even remember?
BI remember it was upstairs and downstairs. So that’s a totally different place too. How long ago was that?
Atwo years? Summer 2021. Because I was starting my sabbatical and the pandemic kind of pushed us into podcasting. Well, not really. It just seemed like the thing to do. I think everyone else had the same idea, but hey, we’ve kept it up for two years.
BThat’s true. I credit you with the determination and follow-through to keep that going. Because I just show up when you ask me.
ARight. But reading wise, do you think anything has changed for you in the past couple of years?
BI tend towards a little bit more non-fiction now I think. That doesn’t mean that I’m uninterested in fiction. I do love blitzing through good novel.
AI think everything you read has to do with climate one way or another.
BThe thing is, everything everyone reads has to do with climate one way or another. Every part of society boils down to carbon. It does.
AWell, I guess books are printed from trees, right? And even screens are surely not carbon zero.
AYeah. So I think your reading is pretty focused. You’ve got a niche that you like. I feel like I’ve been more adventurous with my reading. By adventurous, I just mean diverse, perhaps in terms of genre and format.
ANow, onto reading for fun.
BOh boy.
AAnd yes, I know some of you find scholarly reading fun. I do too. But I’m talking about something that is for you and not for
BNot for professional development
Apurposes of tenure and promotion or whatever. Because like I mentioned before, as soon as you’re obligated to do something, it takes it takes away a little bit of the ability to enjoy it, at least for me.
BYeah, I think that if someone had laid out all the non fictions that I have read and said, read these I’d be like, those are such big books.
AAnd it literally could have been a syllabus for like an environmental communication class or whatever.
ASo I asked a few people about this. Colleagues, friends, students, just to get some perspective on how other people fit leisure reading into their busy lives. Because I can sit here and talk about, here’s what I do. But that only works for me a fraction of the time anyway.
AAnd it evolves a lot. So I think it would be more useful for listeners to kind of hear that variety.
BYeah. In contrast, I won’t make fun of my coworkers, but one of them attempted to insult me because I read I read books when we’re not doing things in the truck. just as my fallback thing, instead of dinking around on my phone all the time,
AInsult? What did he say?
BHe said You’re such a librarian.
AOh I would take that as a compliment.
Byou have to imagine too like, certainly someone who’s going to listen to this podcast is not going to be like books are dumb. But he, he said that he had he hadn’t read a book since high school.
AOh, no.
BWhich is mind-blowing to me. Like, I don’t I don’t get that.
AOkay. People are allowed to care about different things.
BThey certainly are,
AAnd we’ll talk more about that in a bit. But yeah, I mean, that’s right up there with one of your teachers calling you and intellectual tyrannosaur, is it not? What grade was that?
BThat was that was in 11th grade. For correctly identifying Macedonia on a map.
AOh, wow. I did do one of those like can you identify the European country quizzes. And I man
Bdidn’t do well?
BHow long ago was that?
AOh, just a few weeks ago when I couldn’t sleep one night I was like, I mean the 50 states. I’ve got that nailed. That. Let’s try Europe. Nope.
BSo what did you find?
ASo I looked through the responses for trends. Because I can’t resist turning everything into a qualitative study.
ABut here’s the first thing I want to say. You don’t have to read. You don’t have to read for fun. You are not a better or worse human for having a regular reading habit or not.
BGive three supporting details.
AOne thing that came up in the responses with that was that it is hard to read. It is hard to find time to read. Kelly said, “it took me a while after grad school to get into a reading routine. I felt like I didn’t have any space left in my brain not to mention time for more reading outside of what I do for work.” Joseph said “in my first master’s, I learned that the academic setting is where reading for fun goes to die. The studying and the work of research, office assistant and teaching writing, complete with grading, made reading become my job and I lost track of reading for fun. I was a sci-fi fantasy nerd up to that point, but after reading for work all day, I lost the desire. When I graduated that MS my program chair gave me a Barnes and Noble card. I actually wept. I was so ashamed that I had not read a book in over 18 months except for school. I immediately purchased Dies the Fire by SM Sterling and read the series.”
BPretty good. By the way.
AIs that the one with.
Bthe Ember verse, the one where electricity and explosions both stop
AWhat’s the one that you read with the annoying main guy?
BThe self-important magic one?
AYeah. Yeah. Yeah..
BThat’s The name of the wind by Patrick Rothfuss
AOkay. Not the same.
BYeah, a guy who should really get the fuck off is asked and finish writing that trilogy, write two to books and then dither.
AOkay. And Matt says, “I will confess that is a perennial struggle. Ever since grad school, the amount of reading that I do that is connected to my academic work, means that pleasure reading often gets pushed to the margins of my free time. Furthermore, the fact that so much of my job as a film studies professor is tied to viewing, means that often my free time is taken up by watching movies that broadly aligned with my overall academic goals and responsibilities. In short, leisure reading has been one of those things that I continually try to re-prioritize in my life, but I’ve had mixed success.” These professors are all talking about seasons in their life that leisure reading has been a struggle. And my, again, my response to that is, that’s okay. You don’t have to read for fun because I needed someone to tell me that. Like my first year as an assistant professor. You may recall, I worked every single weekend. I never felt caught up. On top of feeling like I was barely surviving, I also felt guilty for having such a shitty work-life balance, you know. So it’s like guilt compounded upon guilt. But it was a season. It didn’t last.
AI’m not working every weekend.
BNo, I’m glad.
AAnd so if you’re in a place where you’re just trying to stay above water, don’t add in something that feels like a chore because you think you’re supposed to.
Abecause you think that’s what makes you a worthwhile human being.
BYeah. That that goes beyond reading.
AYes. I have friends with newborns. Like
BYour hobbies become taking a nap.
ANo joke.
BThat’s true. That’s a blind spot of mine because your experience and a lot of academic and desk driving professionals
ADesk driving?
BLike working at a desk.
AIs that a saying? Desk driving. Because here’s what it makes me think of. Melissa McCarthy playing
BSean Spicer.
ASean Spicer on SNL with the podium on the segue.
BThe segue podium. Yes, That was that was epic. you better put a link to the YouTube video in the show notes.
ARight. I mean, can you imagine having that in your classroom?
AI feel like we need to record a fake promo at this point for segue podium.
BOkay. I like this project.
AI totally interrupted you. Desk driving professions.
BYes. So people who have to do like a substantial amount of reading that is a regular part of their job.
AKnowledge workers.
BMm-hmm. I can see how that would make it very hard to want to do that leisurely. Kind of like how I’m less inclined now to just go for a walk when we’re at home or go outside because I’m outside 10 hours a day.
AYeah. No joke.
BEveryone needs a balance of focused and unfocused time. And that balance, of course, is dependent on the person, but you need both to have a healthy brain. And I spend a fair amount of my workday, observing for safety purposes the other or my co-worker who is flying the boom to make sure that they don’t accidentally like fly it into a power line because that’s a bad day.
ASo sort of an environmental awareness?
BYes, being present, but there’s lots of space for your mind to wander. Versus if I’m reading a book, you have experienced, like, especially when it’s time to get the kids ready for bed. If I am reading a book, that is the world, that is the entirety of the world. I am focused on this book and reading the text and understanding it. So you need the balance and if you’re like, if you’re looking through reports and you’re like thinking about how do I write this report? Like that’s, that’s very focus centric. And it’s not very scattered focus or diffuse focus kind of work.
ARight. And I think, I think reading is the kind of activity that has such range within it that even if you are parsing theory all day, like you can go home and read a murder book, which I do. Earlier this year, I had a bunch of deadlines kinda bunched up. And then as soon as I had all that behind me, I was like murder books. And they were bad books. I sat there and I told you the plot. And I was like, I cannot believe this drivel. And then I went on to read every page.
AAnd I think that that’s part of recognizing that you’re a human being and you can’t be on 24/7 and that you deserve space to blow off steam and read tasteless trash. Now, I will say that even if you don’t choose to read, it is hugely important to be able to cultivate some kind of hobby outside of work, which I am embarrassed to say didn’t happen for me until the pandemic. And, you know, we bought a piano and I learned it.
BAnd you learned how to podcast.
APlaying music is something that engages a different part of your brain. And just to have something to care about that’s not work or parenting was really important for me.
ASo I would encourage anyone who feels just too busy to just start with something. And at the same time, like if you’re in a season where you can’t, awesome, don’t do it. But the season shouldn’t last forever.
BMaybe get ideas for how you’re going to reward yourself for getting through to the promised land.
AOr maybe you love watching movies or watching TV. in my mind, watching TV has always been the same as wasting time
Bor eating junk food.
ABut I savor a good episode of TV. In part thanks to you.
BYou’re talking about Stranger Things?
AYes. Which I wouldn’t have watched where it not for your prompting. And yes, I’m years behind the curve on this. As I am on most everything that’s ever popular because I’m like, oh, something’s popular I must go against the flow.
BToo cool.
AAnd then years later I discover it and I’m like, Oh, society is right. There’s a reason this is great. So yeah, and to me, like sitting and savoring a good episode of TV is not the same as mindlessly turning it on and vegging out. Though there, though there is space for that too of course. Same as scrolling TikTok, right?
AI think the question is, how do you feel by the time you’re done with it? Because for me, I look up and 45 min have gone by and I’ve been watching Instagram Reels or whatever. And I couldn’t tell you a single thing that I watched in the previous 45 min. Yes, I enjoyed myself while doing it, but I have literally nothing to show for it. Well, no, that’s not true. I bookmark the good animal videos.
BIt’s true. And then I share them with the family.
AI do the same with memes on Facebook. One of these days I’m gonna, I’m gonna barrage you with my folder o memes.
BI look forward to it. Put them in a slideshow for me.
BMaybe you love gaming. Again gaming has a bad rap, but I think it’s a lot more active than other kinds of hobbies. It is intellectually stimulating.
AThey can be, yeah.
BI’d rather my kid play Minecraft than just watch TV.
ABut I would rather my kid just watch TV rather than play Grand Theft Auto or something like that.
BYeah, that’s true. Not all games are created equally
AFor young children, Yes, indeed. And I think it’s also completely fair to choose your reading based on your personal or professional goals. So this comes from Lenny. “For me, I typically read non-fiction books and books that will directly help me grow in a certain area I’m interested in. It’s very rare you’ll find me reading a fiction novel. I typically find myself looking for new books to read whenever I have a desire to grow, learn, or become something new. And I recognize that I lack the necessary knowledge to feel confident in that area. Reading books helps me chart a pathway through unknown worlds and identities, but I want to claim for myself.” And he talks about getting into ultra running and how reading books was instrumental to him gaining some confidence in that area. And I totally get that. In the past. When I’ve needed a boost to do something I know that I need to do or want to do. I think reading about it can often do, can often give me that boost.
BI feel like that specific thing though would feel very much like maybe not assigned reading, but dutiful sort of.
AYeah. I guess one thing that comes to mind for me is if I’m feeling the urge to declutter or something. Pick up a Marie Kondo or one of those books with all the beautiful color coordinated drawers and everything.
BThat’s when I need a bolt things down there so they’re there when I get home. What?
ANow, Let’s say you do want to be a reading person. You want that to be your hobby. You don’t have to read what you think you’re supposed to read. This is another thing that has been super hard for me to accept as an English major and as someone who has generally valued being a smart person most of my life. I do have this Platonic ideal of a reading list in my head that has led to a lot of guilt when I’m not reading that important stuff.
BDo you ever see people put stuff like that on social media?
AHave I ever seen anybody pose with Plato’s Republic for their high school senior picture?
BOkay. You got me.
AIn your Hawaiian shirt no less. At least you read a few paragraphs of it while you were in the library are getting photographed.
BWhile I was waiting for the photographer to get set up there.
ALike do I see people bragging about their reading on social media? Or like, you have to read this book before you die.
BLike most Americans have only read ten off of this list of
AOh, yeah.
BI’ve read 23.
AThe peer pressure kind of thing.
AYeah. Yeah. And it’s bullshit. There is no such thing as a canon.
BWell, tell that to the Civil War.
AI recall, this was one of my first college classes I ever took. And I wrote my paper on women in the canon and the lack thereof. And for my cover page, I used a photo of a woman in a literal canon.
BVery nice choice.
AThank you. Okay. I’ll give you an example. When I was a kid, our family had a subscription to Reader’s Digest. And I remember reading an article that was like Laura Bush’s top 25 books everyone needs to read in their lifetime or something along those lines. And I put those books on my reading list. And so I’m like 12 and reading fucking Sophie’s Choice.
BI don’t know what that is.
AThat sucks when as a kid, you’re told that the definition of great literature is a book in which the narrator is just trying to get into a Holocaust victim’s pants the whole time.
BOh, wow.
AYou know, maybe there are folks out there who are like, I love Sophie’s choice and it’s a great literary achievement. Fine. But I have spent so many years like trying to read the classics. And you know, at this point, I would say nine out of ten books I read is by a woman. And this is not me being anti-man. I’m simply making up for lost time, right?
AI saw a terrible tweet that kind of encapsulated this attitude. “I would 100% prefer my kid to be able to read and understand Moby Dick, but hate it and read rarely than to love reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its like frequently. A love of reading is nice, but it’s not the goal of literary instruction.”
AI mean, this guy got thoroughly dunked on.
BOh good. Yeah. That’s, that’s like the nemesis in Ratatouille. Who is super gaunt and says, I don’t like food. I love it. A food critic.
AOh right and he’s very anti the everyone can cook cookbook author? Yes.
BSomeone who is regarded as an expert because they don’t like the thing.
AYou know what, Moby Dick is still on my platonic ideal reading list.
AMaybe I’ll read it someday.
BI know I’m never going to read that book. Sure. Maybe this is a lack of imagination on my part, but I cannot imagine that there’s anything I need to learn in life from a guy who was obsessed with murdering a whale.
AYeah, I can’t do any animal cruelty. People die in a book, no biggie. A dog dies, I’m out. Don’t get me started on where the Red Fern grows. So there’s, there’s so many things wrong with that attitude, especially towards childhood reading. Yet I have noticed myself like needing to be aware of that and push back against it because Zoe loves graphic novels. And I don’t know, there’s part of me that feels like they’re somehow less serious
BLike it’s cheating.
Aand I wish she would read quote unquote real books. But at the same time, like graphic novels, are a beautiful blend of the visual and the verbal. I am not wired that way. And I respect that Zoe is.
BYeah. I know I have exactly that kind of an impulse. Like for me it’s more of a, It feels like a step towards watching the movie instead of reading the book. You know, it feels like cheating because we didn’t have it in my day. Eh, back in my day.
AYou know you would have loved graphic novels if there had been a wide assortment for you. Did you read any comic books? Well, these are comic books per se, but you had a whole pile of Garfield books. Which incidentally, Zoe loves, and I blame that 90% on why she’s such a smart ass.
BYeah. Yeah, I should get her I should get a Calvin and Hobbes now. I think she’s ready.
ASo all that to say. If you want to cultivate a reading habit, start with something that you love. No matter how unserious it may feel. Start with a childhood favorite. I, we read to our kids before bed every night and re-reading my favorite childhood fantasy books with Zoe is like one of the best things in my life. To like re-experience that and experience her reaction to it too. Except she hates when we have to end.
BEvery night.
AEvery night, it’s like, Noo
BAright We need to go. that’s it for tonight. No.
AOne more page. Read a young adult novel. Read a book that’s described as impossible to put down.
AAnd this has worked for Matt as well. He says, “I try to first return to the authors and types of writing that I find most pleasurable. I’ve always enjoyed literary fiction in particular and have attempted to at least somewhat keep up with a handful of authors who I’ve loved since high-school. Zadie Smith in particular is an author who I’ve remained relatively good at staying current with.”  Reread something that made you feel passionate about reading.
ARead an author that you know you’re gonna love. Yeah, if only to give yourself a strong start, if you’re trying to build a habit, right? You’re not going to build a habit with Moby Dick.
BHopefully you don’t build a whale killing habit with Moby Dick. Yeah, I like sci-fi. I like sci-fi, that is hard. Sci-fi, meaning the science is not the fiction. Jumping into a series, that gets critical acclaim or that is, that has really good reviews. like when I started in the Expanse series, which is a nine book series. They’re big books, but they are page turners. To me.
AI can see the appeal of a series because you don’t have to reacquaint yourself with the world and the characters every time. I am not a big series reader, I kinda feel like if I’m going to read a book, it needs to be able to stand alone. Again, that might just be me making unfair judgements about books, but I also really like variety. And I feel like if I’m reading something in a series, like it’s too, too much repetition. Which boxcar children did you get to?
BOh gosh.
AWith Zoe. I’m so glad that was you and not me. I would’ve torn my hair out.
B40s or 50s. I don’t remember. There is a lot of repetition there. They like to play house, they like to cook. They like to do the same thing again and again, and they solve mysteries.
AYeah. I will say the original boxcar children was one of the first chapter books that I read with Zoe because that was one of the first chapter books that my mom read with me.
Ayeah. Same with Little House on the Prairie. Or no Little House in the Big Woods.
BWhich sadly
Ais super racist?
BWell, yes, it is super racist, but it’s also a reinvention of history to make it seem very rugged, individualist, very self-reliant. There’s all of this stuff that talks about how they keep their farm and how they, how they provide all their own needs. And that is not the way that frontier life was.
ASo you’re telling me Laura Ingalls had an agenda?
AI need I’m going to use a source for this one.
BGeez, which podcast was it? One of the things that I really did appreciate about those books, the first one and the second one. Farm boy?
AOh yeah.
Bthey give a very like up-close understanding of preindustrial skills, which is really just the way that people lived 150 years ago.
AAnd the way we’ll have to learn to live when the climate apocalypse descends upon our world?
BWell, that too, but I mean, just the process of how a shoe was made. They talk about how they, how they made nice rows for their potato plants way by dragging a board with nails in it this way and then the other way, and then made little mounds for it where the lines came together.
AAnd I tell you what, I will never forget the pig bladder balloon. from Little House on the Big Woods. Apparently you forgot about it.
AAnyway. That would be my first tip. Find something you love. Number two. Accountability. And this can include accountability to yourself in the form of setting goals and tracking your progress. But one thing that has been a really good jumpstart to my reading in the past year or so is doing a book club with a group of friends. We take turns choosing a book so that has opened me up to genres and topics that I may not have chosen on my own but that I’ve really enjoyed and have kind of like set me on a path to appreciating other books. And even if I don’t enjoy a book, then it’s nice to have people to complain about it with, right?
AThe other thing. And thanks again to Lindsey for introducing me to this is an app called Story Graph. And Kelly uses his too. She says, “I keep myself accountable to reading a certain number of books per year by tracking my progress on GoodReads and the story graph. I especially like the story graph because it keeps track of different stats. Like how many books I read in each format and each books mood. And from those stats that gives pretty good recommendations for what to read next.” here, have I showed it to you yet?
BI don t know that you have.
ACheck this out. Data displays.
BAh Yeah.
AI mean, how could I not. pie charts, bar charts, line charts. So it’s got like a progress bar for my
BHow many books you want to read
AMy numeric book goal, I guess. And then it kind of takes the data from the books that you’ve inputted. And you can see, well, I’ll let you interpret it. What does this say about me as a reader?
BIt says that you like books that make you feel reflective and emotional. Those are you two biggest moods and the pie chart. Pace that you read atm page numbers. 63% fiction,
AWhich was not the case two years ago for sure. that’s a major shift in my reading life.
BThis is a little bit funny.
BThe books read and it’s got the rest of the year that hasn’t happened yet and it’s like, Hey, you’re doing great and then it flatlines at June.
BSo you’ve got what is it, five books out here that are thriller, memoir, history, historical. So
AThose are kind of my top categories. But you’ll notice there’s a bunch of categories for genre. Which I like because I like a lot of different things. So this is anonymous. No one’s gonna be able to find me on here, right? This is largely for myself, but I still have this ghost of a English literature professor telling me I should have more classics on here, or, why is murder books at the top?
BYou’re killing it. There, See
AThere. Landed a joke. The self tracking part. I just started using it this year. I don’t know if it is inspiring me to read more or if I just wasn’t paying attention to how much I was reading previously. But it’s fun to have a better handle on that. Largely because it’s helping me think about the books I want to read through a better filter than just genre. Here’s what I mean by that. There are stats like, so when you review a book, you can review it for things like, is it more character-driven, or more plot driven? Is it more fast paced or medium paste? does it have likable characters, stuff like that. But those lenses can be more informative than just you like to read sci-fi. I’ll give you an example. Two of my favorite genres are sci-fi and historical fiction, which on the surface, they seem like total opposites? Future and past. So anyway I’m like is there a common thread here that explains why I like these books beyond just they fall under this category. And I realized that when I’m reading sci-fi, I’m not reading it for the science or the technology or the futurism. What I like about sci-fi is how it sets a stage for ethical and philosophical questions.
BI like that too. That’s really the calling. The purpose of sci-fi is to get you to not realize at first that it’s talking about right now.
ARight.  I think the, the technology isn’t a turn off for me though, if it’s not super realistic or hard, as you say.
BIf it isn’t too?
AMeaning I can see you reading a book and being like, This is so unrealistic. This is not how physics works or something like that. And that being a turnoff to you.
ASo I discovered there’s this sub-genre of philosophical sci-fi. And I’m like, that’s where I’m at.
BI heard the creators of the Expanse talk about how they actually, from book to book, they were able to play with different types of books that they were writing. Like the first one was, was, noir, it was a crime novel. And then the second one is more of a political intrigue kind of book. And then in each one has a, has a different field with the same characters.
AAnd then when it comes to historical fiction, I like books that are set in war time. And I don’t actually like war. I mean, I don’t, I don’t care a whit about military strategy.
BI played too many strategy games to not. It’s baked in at this point.
AI gave it a good shake. I tried I tried playing Axis and Allies with you.
BYou tried. Yes. I would have literally had more fun with an Excel spreadsheet.
AYou made it through being Russia on Russia’s first turn. And after that you were like, I’m done.
BWhat I care about is the motives, the personalities. And with Axis and Allies
ANone of that.
BRight. It’s just like how many kinds of this battleship are you going to put in this atoll?
AStrategic and tactical.
BBooks set in the time of Nazi occupied Europe in particular, I feel do a great job of kind of tearing away the superfluous, What am I trying to say? It centers on like genuine moral dilemmas. And I like reading about people navigating that. Like you and I were talking about Anne Frank not too long ago. And like I was saying, it’s like living out the trolley problem on a daily basis.
AYeah. Which we have the luxury of
Bviewing from a distance. Right.
AUnless you’re Chidi Anagonye.
Bthat’s true.
ABut There’s that question, how would I respond in this situation in a world where there’s no good answer, how do you survive?
BThat specifically is one of the things that, you know, that quandary is why post-apocalyptic media very much appeals to me. Because, you know, after an apocalypse, there is no good answer for anything.
APut people in a survival situation and you see a whole new side. Also in story graph, there are reading challenges which you can sign up for. So I’m doing A to Z book titles, which is sort of a secondary goal for me right now compared to like what I do want to do is read X number of books in a year. But having that alphabet challenge can nudge one book higher on the read next list for me, you know, I’m gonna put this title next in the queue. Which incidentally I do need a Q book.
B Quiet.
AOh right. In praise of introverts. Right? And we’re back.
BWe’re back.
AI just spilled a full cup of coffee onto the keyboard, onto the floor, onto my clothes, onto the wall, et cetera. It may have splattered the microphone. And it was a special coffee too. Had whipped cream on it.
BSalted caramel whipped cream.
AYeah. Alas. This is not even the first time this week this has happened.
BMaybe it’s just that you have a bowl with a handle for a coffee mug.
AWhere were we? My next tip is to mix up the format. I have gotten so many suggestions to try audio books that I finally gave in and tried it. I’ve listened to one. That experience was not enough to convert me. But I can see the appeal. I think the main problem for me is that listening to audio books would take up the time that I used to listen to podcasts and I love podcasts too much.
BYeah. I don’t have 130 subscribed podcasts like you do.
AI don’t listen to every single one. I just like having choice.
BThat’s actually a really great way to make use of a commute. If you aren’t listening to either a podcast or an audio book while you’re driving somewhere, I feel for you
AYou ever heard of music?
BWhat is this thing you speak of?
AFor me, I can’t sit and listen. If I’m going to sit and read then like holding a book feels more active, I guess. So I would save my my listening for driving or dishes or something.
BOr when you just want to lay down and close your eyes.
AThat’s right. I do listen to podcasts a lot to fall asleep when you’re not reading Ursula Le Guin to me. So don’t take it from me. I’m not enough of an audio book enthusiast to tell you why you should do it. But Joseph says, “in my second master’s, I started adding audio books so I could read during my commute. In my PhD, I would use the read to me feature from kindle and the Adobe reader read out loud to accompany texts I was reading for school so it was only natural that I would continue this into my reading for fun. Now that I’m working full time, I’ve purchased a program called text aloud. and I can turn any text into a computer read mp3. The voices are getting better and I find that it’s cheaper than buying audio books so I’ve been buying the books on PDF, converting them to MP3s, and then reading as I listen. I think it helps retention and pacing.” And Kelly says “about 80 per cent of the books I read are on audio. I listen while I get ready in the morning, drive, Cook, clean, etc.” I will say this. A barrier to me adopting audio books is that I thought I needed to buy a subscription to Audible. I was like, I don’t know enough whether this is going to be worth it for me to make that investment. But you can check out audio books and e-books from your local library.
BNot available in all areas.
AProbably. Yeah. Libby is what, is what that’s called and it actually has an amazing selection.
BDo they have an app?
AYes. I actually I have it on my phone and my iPad because then I can pick up where I left off if I’m out and about and have some downtime and can just pull up my phone and keep reading. Yeah, that’s really nice to is the syncing. And Lenny spoke of the distinction between podcasts and books too in a way that I identify with. He says “podcasts usually expose me to new questions and topics and help me learn by osmosis by just listening into the meandering dialogues of podcast hosts and guests. While books are usually more structured and coherent forms of knowledge, with a clear thesis the author is putting forward. both books and podcasts have their place for me.” And I think that may be why I have a harder time dipping into audio books versus podcasts is because with most books there is that need to follow the thread. Whereas with a podcast, those feel more informal. My attention can shift in and out. And I won’t feel like I’ve lost a major plot point that I’m going to have to go back and reread, you know what I mean? Have you tried e-books, audio books?
BI’ve done a few books on CD that I’ve checked out from the library and just fed them one after another into my car’s CD player.
AFun fact, my old car did not have a CD player, It had a cassette player.
BIt did.
AAnd that was a selling point because along with the car, we also threw in all of your Weird Al cassette tapes?
BIt’s true. When we were selling
Aon Craigslist, yes. But the buyer said that piqued their interest, did they not?
BI don’t remember that.
Amaybe it just gave them a sense of there’s a real person behind this who knows.
BRight now, you should pause this podcast, go listen to the entire works of Weird Al. So you know what we’re talking about,
AWhich you have memorized.
BMore or less. *Living in the fridge, you can’t stop the mold from growing. Living in the fridge. Can’t tell what it is at all* He only makes gold. I mean, he only remakes gold.
AHey, so you have heard of music.
BYes, I have heard of music. Some people prefer to watch The Daily Show to get their news. I prefer to listen to Weird Al do popular music.
ADo covers of pop songs.
BBecause he makes it better.
AYou’ve seen him in person?
BI have. And he was a freaking dynamo on stage,
BWhich it’s hard to imagine someone holding an accordion being a dynamo, but he certainly was.
AOkay. Would you ever try e-books? What do you think of having a book loaded into your phone so that you can read it during a slow day.
B I’m not opposed to the idea.
A It would make it harder to rile up your right-wing coworkers.
BThat’s true.
AYour giant Greta Thunberg book sitting prominently out on the
Ayour Bernie sticker
Bon my car. Yeah. I mean, I don’t have any problem with using an e-book. I know that there’s some, some benefits that it would that it would have because there could actually be like links to like if it referred back.
AYou know what I really like about it is getting to look up words immediately. So I was just reading a book about the Middle Ages. And there was a lot of stuff I could have gathered from context, but it was also nice to, you know, be like what is a lintel?
BThe thing that’s above the door?
AYes. Who needs an eBook when you’ve got you? And then the next kind of category of advice I got was about making it a habit by setting aside designated times to read. That was a common refrain. There is something to be said for establishing a habit, because by definition, a habit kind of makes something automatic. And so if picking up a book feels like a chore to you, or it feels like you’re going to have to summon up your willpower every single day to get into it. It won’t always be that hard. That was that was the experience for me. At first I did, right. Because it’s infinitely easier and more compelling to scroll through your phone than to pick up a book. But I think I can fairly say that reaching for a book has been my go-to recently.
AMatt says, “I’ve tried to reserve certain times of the day for leisure reading, either in the morning before work or before bed. This means moving myself away from distraction, phones, computers, and reading in a part of my apartment where I can physically detach from reminders of work, stress, etc. Lindsey says, “I have found that leaving the phone, charging in another room overnight has helped immensely. That way I read a book to unwind and get tired instead of scrolling. I also bought some bookmarks and a reading light that functions well, and funnily enough, it feels a little luxuries to use them.” Which is adorable, right? And kind of goes along with the whole, I’m going to create a reading nook, which honestly I’m going to read on the couch or at the table or in the bed like wherever I am anyway. So my beautiful fluffy reading nook tends to go unused.
BWhat is that?
AIn the office with the chair in the corner with all the pillows and the 14 lamps. Maybe I don’t like reading there because it’s associated with work. So maybe designate a reading spot. But then again, that can also feel like more pressure because you have to go to this out of the way space and it feels harder to detach from everyday life. Whereas, and this was something that you suggested in our first reading episode, is you have different books for different contexts, right?
ASo you have like a dining room table book. And you’ve got a bedtime book, and you’ve got an Everywhere book. And the same is true for me.
AWhat’s your living room book right now?
BIt’s the climate book by Greta Thunberg. I did want to say that one thing I like about that book is that it’s like an edited collection.
AIt’s curated.
BIt’s curated. But you get to hear from experts about various aspects of a problem or a concept, and you don’t have to track them all down. That’s been done for you.
AHm. What would you think of like a short story anthology?
BOh yeah, a short story anthology. I’ve read a few of those. Sometimes an author will make a collection of their own short stories in a book. That’s one direction. I’m sorry what were you doing?
AI was going to sing One Direction lyrics, but thought better of it.
BThank you for not.  You know, the anthologies of different writers in a similar genre are interesting because reading out of a bunch of different fictional worlds in short order. It opens your mind up in a way.
AAnd I imagine it would be useful for folks who can only do snippets of reading.
BFor those who aren’t prepared to just sit down with a Tolkien. Deep.
AI would consider it if there were a freaking glossary, an index,
Ban index of?
ANames and places,
BDramatis personae is what you’re looking for.
AWell, but I would also want the page numbers that they are on. So I can be like, Okay, when was this person first introduced? I can’t remember them. And every book should have a map.
BThat is one thing that Lord of the Rings excels in.
AYes. If they did, I would know my European countries better than I do. Timelines and geography, those are things that are easy to lose track of in one setting.
BOh, that would actually, things like a timeline, for a novel. You wouldn’t want something where the whole timeline is instantly viewable because that would spoil it.
AThat’s true, that’s true.
BBut if you had a, like an e-reader type thing where it unlocks parts of the timeline and you can look back. That’s a fun idea.
AThat is really fun.
BCopyrighted and trademarked.
AAnyway, it’s easy to make it a habit before bed.
BYep. As long as you’re not reading stuff that’s too thought-provoking or
Awhich often that happens to me. But better that I be reading something than staying up getting sucked into a Reddit argument. I don’t argue on Reddit. I read other people’s arguments. I’m here to say, someone is wrong on the Internet.
BYou’re just here with the popcorn. You’re like Ooh.
AYes. Alright, the last thing I wanted to touch on is finishing books. You may remember the first time we talked about this I said, I have a really hard time not finishing books.
AAnd I think I’ve gotten a lot better about that. I mean, accepting that I’m not going to finish every book. Or at least I’ve re-framed how I view it. Because there is no such thing as a universally good book. So if I’m having trouble getting through a book, it’s easy to turn the blame towards me. Like I’m too lazy to want to finish this or I’m, you know?
BYeah. You didn’t make this book.
ASo what? Maybe a book isn’t for you, but it’s for other people. Great. And so I’m starting to think of like when, when I start reading a book and I just can’t like I just don’t care to continue, I’m viewing that as part of the process of getting to a book that I love. It’s almost like honing my internal algorithm where I can be like, What is it about this book that’s not quite grabbing me?
BI don’t love this!
Ayou only have one life, You only have so much time. And don’t waste that time on William Styron. Sophie’s Choice. Sorry.
AI have feelings. And there’s a podcast that I recently found that I think has helped me understand this. It’s called What Should I Read next? And the whole premise of it is that there’s this book expert, who asks her guests to say, what are three books you love and one that wasn’t quite for you. In that way she’s able to build a new reading list for them based on not just like, I like these books, but why do you like them or not like them? Which is very different from a universalized
BEveryone needs to.
A13 can’t miss sci-fi. Okay. But why? Oh, here’s another thing I do. It’s kind of cheating. If I’ve read most of a book, I’ll call that read.
BThat is kinda cheating.
AI mean, 80% not 51%.
ABut then that’s especially good for nonfiction, where it is easier to skip around to the stuff that’s more relevant. And if I held myself to the standard of needing to read 100% of a book to consider it finished, then I would just not engage with it any further. So I need to leave a little bit, a little bit of that flexibility for myself.
BOkay, alright.
AOr all of the Ursula Le Guin I’m missing because I fall asleep. By the time you’re done with that, I’m going to mark that as read. Even though I may have only been conscious for like 35% of it. So how about you? How do you feel about not finishing books or finishing them or?
BI try to be pretty picky about the books that I engage with. My narrow selection is kind of a part of that. But there have been a couple of books that I’ve read in the last few years that I did not finish. Oh, there was one book that I started reading and it didn’t quite feel right. I got a chapter or two in. Then I looked it up and I realized it’s a sequel.
AOh no.
BSo plot points from the first book, completely spoiled.
AYep. I think it’s fair to say that you are, you maybe have a better sense of yes, this is a book I’m going to like, whereas I really have found enjoyment in dabbling.
BThat’s fine.
AI think freeing myself from this unreal expectation that I need to finish every book I start. That, opens it up for me to be more adventurous in my selections because I know I’m not committing myself to something that I’m going to hate. There’s an off ramp.  What else do you have to say?
BI think in summary, the last thing we want is to induce pressure on you. Our dear listener. You’ve got enough internal pressures that you need to be cognizant of and try to dismantle them on your own. Like with the perceived what I should be doing, what I should be reading how, when, how much, all of the right, all of these
ARight you don’t need the ghost of Laura Bush breathing down your neck.
BNobody does. Is this George W. Bush’s?
BOkay. She isn’t dead yet actually
AOkay so she wouldn’t be a ghost.
AYes, that’s it.
BMoreover, if she said you should read it, you probably should not.
AI know. I mean, Reader’s Digest was
BIt was still a dominant force
AIn my life.
AI would guess that the target, our target audience is probably the type of person who has that internal pressure. Oh, I should read.
AThere is a limited number of books you will be able to read in your lifetime. Some of those may be like challenging and rewarding in their own way. And others might be trashy murder books and each has their place. I think the thing is whatever you’re doing, take some time to be intentional about it so that it is reflective of what you truly want versus I don’t know who else, who else is a good representation? Oh, yeah the Moby Dick idiot on Twitter. I hope that this has not come across as prescriptive, but just these are things that people do that have helped them accomplish the goals that they want to accomplish. Any, any closing remarks? Any season closing remarks?
Bif you’re still listening to us, good for you.
ABenton’s going to talk about recycling in the future. I don’t think I can commit to regular publishing of TC talk going forward, but I’m not ready to say goodbye fully. So don’t unsubscribe, even though you don’t, you won’t see us for a few months,
AWe may pop up now and again.
BWe’ll be back. Get to the choppa.