I’ve been using the forced digital diet here in Moabit to do lots of reading, and this caused me to reflect on what (and how) I read in general. I think I read a lot and not enough.
First up the how. I read on paper and for news on my desktop or laptop. I have no tablet and no kindle, for a few reasons. I find reading on a connected device very distracting as there is always the temptation to check other things. I also don’t want my kids to see me staring into a device. Finally I hate the lack of ability to browse. I love browsing a bookshelf and discovering something interesting. I love going to someone’s house and scanning their book collection. One of my greatest points of pride in life is that I see my four year old son doing this as well.
I’m fortunate to live in the Barbican and have access to a great library (though would be ace if it were open on Sunday and thus much mre accessible for people who work). Nevertheless I also have a lot of books and continually end up with more. Since our last move though I operate a one in, one out policy and I now pretty much only buy used books. I’m also trying to be better about passing books I no longer need on to others who I think will find them useful.
Most nights I read before I fall asleep, usually 30-50 pages, I’m a fast reader. For a couple years I was a big non-fiction reader, but at some point I just got tired of it and now I’m back into fiction. I used to have a policy of reading the works of the Nobel prize winner every year, basically letting them pick for me what to read, but at somepoint I stopped. It might be something for me to try again.
The last few years I’ve been making a big effort to read more in German than in English, basically as a way to use German more. The good news is there is a limitless supply of amazing German literature. Last year I discovered and devoured all the works of Böll for example. Perhaps because I was never forced to go through German literture in school, I find I really enjoy it now. The only problem is that getting German books in London isn’t easy or particularly cheap. Mainly I wait until life talkes me to Germany and then come back with several books.
Over the last years, perhaps due to the brutally mundane nature of having two small kids at home consuming most of my free time, I’ve found myself returning to escapist genres like sci-fi, historical fiction like the Aubrey-Maturin series, or most recently Game of Thrones.
In terms of news/current events, every week I read the Economist on paper. I never read them online, because I want considered analysis, not facts. I want to digest, not inhale. One of my great fears is that the Economist will remove their print offering. This would be, frankly, devestating for me. The ritual of reading the Econmist is one I treasure, and I have confidence it keeps me well enough informed on the world.
I used to subscribe to die Zeit, and I loved the content, but the newspaper format is brutal. It was too big and bulky, can’t be read in bed, can’t be thrown into a jacket pocket to be read on the tube, and just generally isn’t practical. It was too easy to fall behind and all of a sudden a pile of newspapers would be clogging up the flat. I still regularly browse the website, but online I very, very rarely end up making it through one of the longer features. It is a shame and I would love to be able to pay someone for high qualiy content like die Zeit but in better format for me. The obvious contender for this role would be der Spiegel, but it just doesn’t do it for me, it is just too mass market and at times gimicky. Several times I’ve bought die Weltwoche, but it’s just too Swiss for me.
I don’t buy or subscribe to any daily newspaper (nor do I watch TV news). Online I read the Guardian, mainly for the occasional bit of sports coverage (Champions League) but also for the news. Their site is well designed and easy to consume. I occasionally browse (but have not registered for) the NY TImes when I feel like some American news, which is less and less frequently. I scan Hacker News a few times a day, and very occasionally engage in the comments. When I’m in Germany and have time to kill I’ll buy the Süddeutsche (mainly out of nostalgia for living in Munich), though I never visit their site. Both they and spiegel.de are so jammed with ads, to the point where it borders on being a real usability issue.
On top of all that, these days I do a lot of reading of whatever twitter surfaces for me, and I have become a firm believer in the “the news will find me theory”. I no longer seek it out.
In that spirit, let me know if you think I’m missing out on something.