On how I read

It is a foggy day, and I am filled with French press coffee, vegan sandwiches, birdsong (without automobile traffic, you can hear the birds!), and things I want to research that I’m either reading about, or that came up while reading about something else.

Reading is a rabbit hole with many tunnels.

I’m writing out reviews about books I enjoy(ed) here, because writing about them is part of my ‘processing.’ Conveying feelings and thoughts in language requires a lot of translation, and that translation teaches me things. If I really enjoy something, I should be able to describe it concisely and well in words, and choosing the right words thoughtfully can take some time. (For example, it wouldn’t be enough to say that the protagonists of William Gibson’s recent fiction are “cool,” because that doesn’t convey what I mean: I mean that they are capable, curious, observant, cool-headed, and have some special niche expertise that they enjoy. I admire people like that, and want to be like that. “Cool” wouldn’t cover it. )

While I am writing reviews of recently read books in a linear fashion, I’m also various stages of reading other books. In my youth, I would force myself to finish each book (whether or not I was enjoying it) before I could go onto the next; but now I drop any I’m not in the mood for (I have so little time – why spend it on a book that isn’t working for me?), and to jump in and out of longer books, based on where they are taking me. Truly stimulating books send me on research projects or reveries that take me a while to return from!

I am in various stages of reading:

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman (fiction, about women being able to generate electricity and defend themselves – fun and a real page-turner!),
  • Appreciate Your Life: The Essence of Zen Practice by Taizan Maezumi Roshi (deep, but likely to inspire reverie about the meaning of life, which distracts from reading),
  • My Seditious Heart: Collected Nonfiction by Arundhati Roy (1000 pages including the extensive footnotes! I had to stop to recover from the pain of reading about injustices done to various minority groups in India by more politically dominant groups, especially “development” programs that make minorities landless while enriching the majority),
  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (I’d read the earlier translation, but this one is much better – the only catch is that I keep using up all my book flags, pad after pad of them, because there are SO MANY CONCEPTS I want to revisit…),
  • You Look Like a Thing And I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place by Janelle Shane (I started this last night, and was laughing so hard I was nearly in tears from examples of her neural net transitioning from generating death metal band names to naming ice cream flavors – I may finish this today), and
  • Olafur Eliasson In Real Life, (which I started this morning), which appeared at first to be a typical catalog of the brilliant show I saw at the Tate Modern last fall, but which is sending me in many directions because it also includes interviews with scientists, artists, chefs, and others, and is becoming more like the best current-topics magazine I’ve ever read.

My reading of the Eliasson book today has made me pause to:

  • write for myself about what it means to be a California artist, a San Francisco native, and a product of the optimistic and green international cultural sensibilities of California in my 1970s childhood (Eliasson is a similar age, but clearly Icelandic-Danish in his influences);
  • look up artists like Fujiko Nakaya (fog installations!);
  • wonder if artists I like have any new work to marvel at (maybe not – Michael Rosenfeld Gallery’s Lou Bontecou Selected Works page doesn’t suggest so, but she could be saving up for a new show),
  • admire the design of the catalog (it is beautifully composed and printed; I’ll save the rest of my gushing for the write up);
  • remember that I recently read other books I haven’t posted reviews of (oops); and
  • try to decide if I should use my photos of Harpa to play with in MirrorLab…

It is FUN to let my mind wander so freely, and to have such stimulating material to read.

Working long hours prevents me from spending more time thinking like this – while I am working, I am VERY dedicated to solving work problems, and sometimes dream about possible solutions, or wake up dwelling on work issues to solve – but a weekend like this is like a brain vacation / day spa / slice of free-thinking heaven.

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