The Reader’s Conundrum


I picked up two books on the way to the train this afternoon. One, Ammon Shea’s Reading the OED, because I read Nicholson Baker’s charming review of it in the New York Times, and had one of those moments where I enjoyed the review so much that it doesn’t really matter if the book is of the same caliber. Though, anything that imparts such useful knowledge as the word “lant” (to urinate in ale so as to give it extra kick) or “pissupprest” (to pass on urinating in one’s beer by ‘holding it in’) is definitely worthy of attention.

Shea begins with the letter “A” and the arrival of his new set of books. “My Oxford English Dictionary arrives at 9:27 one Monday morning, brought by a deliveryman who is much cheerier that I would have expected anyone carrying 150 pounds of books up a flight of stairs to be. Five boxes, containing twenty books that promise to take up the next twelve months of my life.”

Raging bibliophile that I am: this opening says ‘S-E-X.’

As difficult as it is to put this book down, I also have Victor Gischler’s Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse (bought at the same time; the bookstore clerk’s head about exploded). Gischler’s opening line: “This is how Mortimer Tate ended up killing the first three human beings he’d laid eyes on in nearly a decade . . . ”

I know. Which one to read first? Tough call . . . tough call . . .

We call this “progress”


While away in Montana, I had some time to think about getting things done (lowercase), and how much of my time is lost to general frittering, conscious work avoidance, and watching the ‘tubes all crazy magpie-like. Upon returning, I’ve seen a couple of posts from Merlin Mann at 43 Folders which have started to crystallize some things.

(1) Neal Stephenson’s argument that writers write. As Mann reports in the first part of a series about effective time use, Stephenson believes–and rightly so–that long, uninterrupted blocks of time (LUBoT) are critical for writing long, uninterrupted blocks of novels. Like, four hours or more. And, being attached to the Internet in any fashion (via any number of distracting applications, social and otherwise) will forestall the “uninterrupted” part of the equation.

Now, I don’t have long blocks of time. With kids and the day job, they’re just not there, and I have to chunk up my projects into tiny, fragmented pieces. And, in some ways, I wonder if this contributes to number of projects that I’ve got on my plate, as each of them has micro-states of success built into them. I can feel like I’m getting somewhere on a project when I can parcel out a two-hour chunk. However, it’s not lost on me that novels benefit from LUBoT, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get those back.

(2) This morning’s post on 43Folders about Outcome-Based Thinking might be the solution. Mann distills the issue down to this equation: I need to $FOO because I want to $BAR. It’s all about Next Actions. Which validates what I did accomplish yesterday, which was to list the remaining Recto chapters to be done in PSYCHOBABEL and give them names. By doing so, they now have Goal States, and I can apply the $F00->$BAR OBT to them.

And now, forward movement again. Anchors up, and off we go.