This week is the last in our trilogy about watching, listening, and reading. I hope you love these thoughts from the insightful, uncommon Sara Watson. Sara is a writer and a fellow at the Berkman Center where she's working on a book about our relationship with data. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.
I dreamt last night that I met Adriane Tomine. I had a copy of one of his graphic novels, but what I really wanted him to autograph was my framed New Yorker cover "Missed Connections."
I can't explain the dream, nor am I sure that I know what Tomine really looks like in person. But I just got back from a visit to New York where I was reminded of the image while riding the F train, with its vintage orange seats.
I have always loved this illustration. I think it's meant to suggest something melancholy—the missed opportunity for connection, strangers passing each other on different trains, reading the same book.
But it's also always stuck with me for the glimmer of a shared connection in that ephemeral moment. Books are the things we reference to start a conversation. They are shorthand for complex ideas, characters, images, contexts. They are the nodes that connect us. They offer common ground.
I realized how important a sense of place in reading was to me when I joined a "flashmob" of internet friends reading books together with 24-Hour Bookclub (spearheaded by Diana, who incidentally also introduced me to the Uncommon community). Sharing glimpses of our reading environment felt like we were all reading together, no matter where we were geographically distributed. And in our tech book club gatherings here in Boston, I'm always fascinated to see the variety of artifacts placed on the table when we come together to talk about our reading experience. The words we read are the same, but our contexts are different.
The books we love are artifacts that tie us together. They are units of culture and of commonality. We just have to look up from our paperbacks and our iPads every once in a while to catch who else is reading along with us. — Sara
Last week's dispatch asked, What is your favorite thing you've read this year?
"The Shadow of The Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon for the second time. It is everything that a novel should be: suspenseful, mysterious, romantic, grand, intimate, funny, sexy, and so much more.
I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s continuously blowing my mind: "A Deepness in the Sky". You could write several novels on the ideas that Vernor Vinge ties into one. Almost all of the ideas unhinged my brain just a little bit: how do humans deal with sunlight travel between planets, what does an authoritarian government with perfect surveillance look like, how would an anthropomorphized civilization of spiders (yes, spiders) eerily resemble ours? Almost certainly "Deepness" will unseat "Cryptonomicon" as my favorite work of science fiction, no small feat.
One of my favorite things that I remember reading this year is "The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives" by Lola Shoneyin. It is a humorous reflection on the complex ties that bind a seemingly simplistic life. And how all it takes is the unraveling of one little piece of yarn to set all asunder.
My favorite read was most likely "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss. I got completely swept away by the way he writes and the story that slowly unfolds. The thing I love most is how he manages to put music into his words. It is a story within a story within a story.
Hands down my favorite thing I've read this year was "The Awakening" by Kate Chopin. You'll find it in a lot of Feminism 101 classes, but Edna's journey of self-discovery and faithfulness to her newfound person in lieu of continuing to go through the motions because it was what everyone wanted and what made everyone comfortable really spoke to where I am in life now. Though I wouldn't do everything she did, the idea behind the story resonated me. There's also a lot of beautiful imagery; Chopin uses beautiful prose to describe even the most basic thing.
I have been reading a Gertrude Stein book called "How to Write" since the summer of 2011. It's the most intriguing thing I've read all year because I know she is an expert writer but most of it sounds like nonsense. She's explaining her experimental writing style using her experimental writing style (I think). Yet it has challenged so much about how I think about writing and it is filled with beautiful sentences and phrases. Here are a few of my favorites:
"There is some difference between sentiment and romance. Sentiment is awhile and weighed as a weight and romance is made to be authentic." "I have never been so sorry about anything as I was about Friday." "It is to be certain that love is lord of all." "Happy is to find what it does."
"Remains of the Day"
I have two favorite things I have read this year:
First, "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel (loved the way the author inhabited Thomas Cromwell's voice). Second, a piece on Medium by Jake Johnson, I don't want to be a loser really resonated with me. I'm deeply interested in how people frame failure and this piece came along at the right time.
My favorite thing I read this year was Rebecca Solnit's "River of Shadows". It was just the right book, read in the right place, at the right time.
“Texas”, by James Michener.
Caution: Reading Can Be Hazardous by Charles McGrath:
Here was a book that performed that special trick of fiction, the one that never gets tired: It lifted me out of myself, my grumbling and my self-pity, and in language just like the language we use every day, only better, dropped me down in another place and among people far more interesting, who had more on their plate than just a stack of books.
I remember thinking, this is what reading used to be like: fun. I sat there for hours, getting up only once or twice, and finished the book before supper — in time to start another before going to bed.
What would you like more or less of in the new year?