The New York Times Sunday Book Review had an item on Christmas 2016 in which it asked prominent (“notable”) people, mostly writers such as Hilary Mantel and James McBride and Maxine Hong Kingston, but also public figures like Paul Simon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, what they had read this past year.
They didn’t ask me—I’m not notable enough for the New York Times—but I want to weigh in. This blog lets me do it!
I read like a fiend. I read all the time on all kinds of devices. (See Lee Skallerup Bessette on her reading.) I post things I encounter to Facebook and Twitter, and send them in email and text to family, friends, colleagues, and students. I repost and I retweet. I have started a Facebook group called Cultural Anthropology Connection. I am a one-woman clipping service—or a curator, in today’s lingo.
First thing in the morning I read on my phone and my iPad. I read email and I read the news sources that I have subscribed to for daily briefings: The New York Times, Washington Post, the Guardian, Pacific Standard, Quartz, The Skimm [to see what my younger compatriots might need to know], Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, EIN China News, AlterNet, Mother Jones, Grist, Medium, China Digital Times, many more. I read the random items recommended on Facebook, from inspirational items on Good to Michael Moore to Rebecca Solnit. I consult Twitter less, but nevertheless do. I keep things to read in my car, lest an unexpected moment for reading arise. Last thing, at night, I read books and magazines.
I subscribe to print magazines: The New Yorker, The Nation, The Atlantic, Time, others. The New York Times arrives on Sundays and the South Bend Tribune every day.
I subscribe to professional journals (though I have access to thousands, without subscribing): American Anthropologist, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Ethos, American Education Research Journal, Journal of Asian Studies. I read journal articles and book reviews, book chapters and professional academic blog posts. I read for classes and I read for my research. I evaluate potential journal articles and I evaluate book proposals. I read the work of colleagues at my university and elsewhere as I evaluate their worth for hiring, tenure, or promotion. I read drafts of articles and books for graduate students, friends, colleagues, my spouse.
And I read books.
I read for pleasure and I read for inspiration; I read in my field and outside it. I read fiction and I read nonfiction. I read on education and China, on the environment and politics. I read on food and I read biographies. I read young adult novels and classics. I read mysteries and bestsellers (some, selectively). I read on all kinds of subjects.
Here are some of the books I read this year, most from libraries—my university library, my local wonderful library, Saint Joseph County Public Library, libraries all around the country via inter-library loan. I keep a notebook, a practice I began in my teens, discontinued at some point after I became a graduate student, and restarted in 2002. The physical journal that records my reading is like the story of my life. All the Harry Potter books are in there. I list audio books. I have started to list the books I’ve abandoned—maybe to be picked up again someday. I keep lists of things to read in that notebook but also on Evernote and Keep and Wunderlist. I now have lists of movies and TV and music, too. No guilt, though. So many books, so little time.
Some of the items I am currently reading include The Education of John Dewey by Jay Martin, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk, The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs are Smarter Than You Think by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. Oh, and Diario de Greg, Vieja Escuela (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, for 8-year-olds) by Jeff Kinney, translated by Esteban Morán, to work on my Spanish.
This semester several of my students told me they don’t like reading. One said that she didn’t understand why I assigned so much reading, when there were other equally good ways to get information. I agree. There are TED talks and videos, podcasts and other things.
But I am attached to reading. Several years ago a physical therapist gave me, for fun, a gift of a test of my “strengths” from Gallup. Number one for me was “learning.” I can’t help but connect this with my love of reading.
I used to read at the dinner table, driving with my family. My mother cured me of that—but I still sometimes wish I could! I always read cereal boxes when I ate commercial cereal and I read the bag of organic tea, again, every morning as I wait for the water to boil, though I am probably also reading all the aforementioned items on my phone.
All I can say is, thank goodness for ophthalmology and optics. My glasses are the one item I would grab as I fell out of an airplane or rushed out of a burning building. Even before my phone. Because if I couldn’t see, what good would it be?