It’s getting a little quiet on the internet now. We’re entering the slow season. I tend to believe that online business is immune from seasonality, but August is the exception. With the heat and the slowness and the long days, my ideas are flowing, but not much is being produced. My notes are littered with half-written essays, snippets of sentences that may become something useful or interesting soon. But today, all I want to do is read.
I’ve fallen back into the research phase of my work, and there is no better time for it. The sun stays high so long, and it’s so pleasurable to read without artificial light. My apartment has a skylight, a gift on these interminable days, forcing me to make use of the waking time.
New essays will come (and next week’s podcast episode will give you a behind-the-scenes of my chaotic thought process when I’m working out ideas, in this case about online courses and their pedagogical issues), but after so many years of this work I’m finally ready to stop forcing summer, to stop pushing through when its not necessary, and to trust that the next thing will emerge.
It’s painful, though. I don’t want to pretend otherwise. Every time it feels like the well will be dry forever. That I’ll never write another word. But every time, it comes back.
The best way to refill the well is to feed it. And, of course, it lives on words.
I am a very active reader, and in that respect the worst person to ask about how to read more because it comes easily to me. I usually read for about an hour in the morning with coffee, sometimes a book but often catching up on newsletters. During the day, I read between calls and with meals. I rarely watch TV unless I’m sick (not from some deep snobbery, but because I find it under-stimulating and can’t sit still), which prompts impressive binging that catches me up quickly so I can continue to participate in society’s shared cultural references. Of course, it has been sports climbing season, so I have watched hours of climbing competition streams on YouTube, often knitting or making friendship necklaces with the power screams in the background. But if i’m not watching climbing, then I usually read for a couple of hours before bed. It adds up, and I average almost two books per week.
It’s much easier to read a lot when you have a lot of things to choose from. Folks who have a hard time picking up a book or article tend to have very firm ideas about what they should be reading. There’s judgement, and a desire to make the most of their reading time. I do not do this. I am voracious in all directions, and value articles and essays and blogs as much as epic sci-fi as much as literary fiction as much as critical theory. Just, you know, read. (And my sister who is sitting next to me says to stop reading things you don’t like! You don’t have to finish a book! Be free!)
So here’s my summer reading list, for you. Things I have read, am reading, will be reading. I’m nosy and love this kind of thing, and I hope I can send you down a rabbit hole or two that might create a new possibility in your work. Or just be fun. Enjoying reading a thing is reason enough to do it.
Sarah’s Summer Reading List
Getting Into Fights With Data Centers by Anne Pasek. A delightful zine about cloud computing infrastructure and the impacts of these sprawling, energy-hungry physical locations for the illusory cloud. Pasek lays out ways to oppose data centers to fight back against the environmental and health impacts of treating this technology as inevitable. Actionable and a powerful redirect from consumer “choice” to infrastructure. (Yes, I obviously know i am using like 50 cloud things right now.)
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. Last year I started reading more classics. I was, of course, influenced by Brandon Taylor (whose newsletter remains my favorite thing to read), which is extra embarrassing since he so acutely criticizes mimetic desire. But I am not immune. I started with Anna Karenina which I loved, have been reading a lot of Edith Wharton, and now turn to Henry James. I read and enjoyed The American in high school, but hadn’t read anything further from him. So for the book has not captured me in plot but the language is a treat. We tend to imagine books from the late 1800s as stuffy, but often they’re hilarious. Like, literally laugh-out-loud funny. The Portrait of a Lady is no exception. I’m also a bit into War and Peace, but think the James is more of the summer reading list vibe.
Speaking of, The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor was good. There is some faux controversy about the structure of the book (Is it really a novel? Who fucking cares) but it’s often beautiful and moving, and also very funny and very sad. In an interview Taylor said that the structure was inspired by Karl Ove Knausgaard’s The Morning Star which I also read this summer, and that gave some real context to what Taylor is doing in his book. The Morning Star was really good, but didn’t quite get there at the end. Still worth a read though.
I’ve been researching utopian projects for ~reasons~ and re-read this essay by Joe Hollis called Paradise Gardening. The essay is from the early 90s, and is a powerful call-to-action to find a different way to live and thus save ourselves and the world. Unfortunately, it resonates strongly now, especially in the face of little change in human behavior in the intervening decades. I’ve had the good fortune to meet and learn from Joe, to camp on his land, and be inspired by the work he has done at Mountain Gardens to create a learning community and a resource for seeds and plants that are hard to find elsewhere. Mountain Gardens has recently become a non-profit and is in the process of buying out Joe so he can rest as he ages while preserving the land for future generations; if you’re able to contribute to the fundraiser, you can do so here.
The search for utopia continues as I keep coming back to Jess Green’s website, my eyes retracing her words like fingers on a rosary. There are many beautiful videos of her sharing her wisdom, too. Jess was a weaver of cloth and people and communities, and someone who radically changed my understanding of teaching and how to live a good life. She was drawn to utopian projects, but always with a pragmatic lens, leading with integrity but without purity. She passed away recently, and her family is raising funds to continue her educational vision and ensure access to her collection of looms for curious folk without cost. You can donate here.
And now for dystopia: Flux by Jinwoo Chong was one of the more exciting and engaging books I’ve read this summer, a speculative fiction take on start-up culture that felt pretty darn close to reality. The book has a non-linear structure that worked pretty well, but does seem to be the major complaint people have about the books, so I guess…don’t read this if you only like linear stories? Idk I think that’s a weak critique. I guess I have a bigger comment here: it’s ok for a fiction book to be confusing if that’s in service of the book (yes I like Infinite Jest cancel me). It’s an experience! The confusion of the reader mimics the confusion of the characters, and I found it to be one of the most tightly wrought and ambitious books I’ve read in a long time. And a debut novel! Really impressive stuff.
…And I’m going to stop now. I have a bagel to eat. My sister is here, and we’re going on adventures today. And then tonight I’ll pick up Henry James again and see if I can get hooked in.
Enjoy these long days and slow nights and the bright light to read by. Remember, as Annie Dillard so beautiful put it, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.”
These days won’t return. This is your life, now, in the sweat and the heat and the words you choose to feed to your mind. Enjoy it. I’ll see you in September.