How We Read


George Packer on twitter:

Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic's very good politics blogger, was asked by Michael Kinsley to describe his typical day of information consumption, otherwise known as reading. Ambinder's day begins and ends with Twitter, and there's plenty of Twitter in between. No mention of books, except as vacation material via the Kindle. I'm sure Ambinder still reads books when he's not on vacation, but it didn't occur to him to include them in his account, and I'd guess that this is because they're not a central part of his reading life.

And he's not alone. Just about everyone I know complains about the same thing when they're being honest--including, maybe especially, people whose business is reading and writing. They mourn the loss of books and the loss of time for books. It's no less true of me, which is why I'm trying to place a few limits on the flood of information that I allow into my head.

Ahem: Allow me to answer that question as thought were asked of me--or as though it were even a question! Here I am discussing my own Media Diet:

I spend a considerable amount of time reading books, because I blog about reading books too. I usually do some reading in the morning. Right now, I'm reading "In Old Virginia: Slavery, Farming, and Society in the Journal of John Walker" by Claudia L. Bushman. Basically this woman got a hold of this Virginia planter's diary and is analyzing it and talking about the particulars of daily life in Virginia and the South.

Of course I listed a considerable number of blogs before that. I'm not on twitter. I just don't see the point. But I part with George in the sense that I think that's about my personal predilections. I'm not convinced it reflects a refined critique of the future of information.

These things come together in weird ways. Without getting into specifics, last month was the best month this blog has had since the election high. But the posts that do the best, in terms of traffic and comments, aren't quick hit, off the cuff, witty observations (Crash-bashing excluded) but the dense, long-ish stuff that usually comes from reading books. A couple of weeks ago, we had 100plus comment discussing whether slave should be considered as assets, labor, or both.

This is probably particular to me, but nothing has encouraged me to read more books than blogging here. It provides content for the site but it also makes book-reading more enjoyable. Being outside academia, I don't know where else I could find people to discuss Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom. I've actually been thinking about trying to get a bunch of commenters together to read Ulysses. I've never read it, and can't see myself plowing through it solo. But together we may yet conquer.

One last thing--I think the fact that I don't have a TV and haven't been to the movies in almost two years plays into this. I do video-game. But it's much easier to structure my time around gaming.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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