TBR List Declutter, Issue 33


I’ve been reading Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other (which is on my TBR—TBR List Declutter success story!). The book shows many of the ways that technology connects us with a speed and breadth that hasn’t been possible before while also highlighting how we can use this technology in ways that diminish the importance of deep, real connection, both with others and with ourselves.

Interacting on my cell phone, via voice or text, e-mail or social media, I can choose to sideline anyone at any time for any reason. In some ways, this is helpful. I can screen out distractions if I choose to, connect on my terms, and address issues on my own timeline. This can help me cope with the overwhelming volume of information and sparkly things coming at me through my various devices, but it also reduces the need to compromise for my relationships. When I connect on my own terms, I’m not necessarily thinking about the needs of the other person. This way of connecting encourages me to reframe my relationships in terms of my own convenience, which takes away from the give-and-take that relationships require to grow in depth and meaning.

This way of connecting also encourages me to label people as “worth my time” and “not worth my time,” as “toxic” or “sunshine,” when in reality, we’re all a little of each at any given moment. Experiencing both the good and the bad of another person is part of how we grow a relationship, or at least it has been. When I can turn this off and on, I worry that it keeps everyone at an emotional distance. I “connect” online through likes and brief comments and photos, but often this doesn’t feel like connection. It feels like sitting alone looking at a screen.

I’m not giving up my phone or other devices, but I don’t want to use them mindlessly. I want to be aware of how my use of technology affects my connections with other people, and how easy it is for introverted, somewhat socially anxious me to hide behind. I want it to help facilitate connection—real, socially messy connection, not just connection through likes and comments on my curated social media profiles—rather than keeping others at a convenient, comfortable distance.

The Robert Frost poem “A Time to Talk” illustrates for me an agrarian version of the way that I sometimes prioritize to-dos over real-time connection even when those to-dos can actually wait. I’m more often finishing a blog post than I am doing whatever Frost is doing with those hills, but the basic idea is the same. I want to do better about walking up to the wall to connect with my friends rather than just shouting across the field.

A Time to Talk

By Robert Frost

When a friend calls to me from the road

And slows his horse to a meaning walk,

I don’t stand still and look around

On all the hills I haven’t hoed

And shout from where I am, What is it?

No, not as there is a time to talk.

I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground

Blade-end up and five feet tall,

And plod: I go up the stone wall

For a friendly visit.

Visual Interest:

Playa de San Lorenzo, Gijón, Spain


Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 371-390:

Title: The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 9: True Stories from Around the World
Author: Spalding, Lavinia
Date Added: 7/31/2013

Verdict: Keep. I actually just this week decided to be more merciless about removing nonfiction from my TBR because so often it feels like a chore rather than a pleasure to read it, but I’m willing to make an exception for this collection of essays. I’m a woman and I enjoy traveling (mostly), and it sounds like fun to read the impressions of other women who enjoy traveling. And anyway, this is more memoir than just standard nonfiction, which is different.

Project List: none

Title: On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
Author: Garfield, Simon
Date Added: 8/13/2013

Verdict: Go. Years ago—almost two decades, which is bizarre to me—I heard a This American Life that featured a man who made unconventional maps. The one I remember in particular was a map he made of a neighborhood based on the jack-o’-lanterns displayed on their doorsteps at Halloween. Of course, it was radio so I never actually saw the maps with my eyes, but the idea of using cartography as a way to frame how we experience the world remained vivid to me. I think that memory is what made me add this book in the first place. Now, though, I think I’d rather just track down that This American Life episode.

Project List: n/a

Title: Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny
Author: Sen, Amartya
Date Added: 8/17/2013

Verdict: Go. Great cover, but the reviews lead me to suspect that this book wouldn’t give me what I hope to get from it.

Project List: n/a
Title: Something Pretty, Something Beautiful
Author: Barnes, Eric
Date Added: 8/20/2013

Verdict: Keep. It’s fiction and it appears to be an interesting take on friendships and how they shape our decisions. Or maybe it’s not, but I still want to read it.

Project List: none

Title: The Divine Comedy
Author: Alighieri, Dante
Date Added: 8/20/2013

Verdict: Keep. I have enough basic knowledge of Dante’s work to reference it in conversation without having read it, but it would be nice to know, really, what I’m referencing.

Project List: Cavalcade of Classics

Title: I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains
Author: Klosterman, Chuck
Date Added: 8/21/2013

Verdict: Go. I am very interested in how we as individuals and a culture decide to label someone “good” or “bad” and what effect the labels themselves have on how we see our world, but I’d rather explore this from a philosophical perspective rather than a pop-culture one.

Project List: n/a

Title: Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain
Author: Churchland, Patricia S.
Date Added: 8/21/2013

Verdict: Keep. Sure, it’s nonfiction, but it looks really interesting and philosophical and it deals with the issue I frequently mull over and argue about with my spouse of how brain physiology relates to our sense of “self.”

Project List: none.

Title: The Shining Girls
Author: Beukes, Lauren
Date Added: 8/22/2013

Verdict: Keep. I’ve been wanting to read this since I first heard about it, and reading Beukes’ Broken Monsters only increased my desire to read it. I’m not sure why I have read it yet, but it has given me a reason to use several forms of the word “read” in this little paragraph thing.

Project List: none.

Title: When the Messenger Is Hot
Author: Crane, Elizabeth
Date Added: 8/28/2013

Verdict: Go. I was on the fence about this one. The summary on Goodreads didn’t help much except to say that people in book clubs would like it, which defies my interpretation abilities. I decided to scrap it just because there’s nothing to suggest that there’s anything particularly stick-to-your-ribs about this collection.

Project List: n/a

Title: Home
Author: Morrison, Toni
Date Added: 9/9/2013

Verdict: Keep. Of course I’m going to read it; it’s by Toni Morrison. In fact, why haven’t I read it already?

Project List: none.

Title: Essence of the Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Call to Nirvana
Author: Easwaran, Eknath
Date Added: 9/9/2013

Verdict: Go. Buddhism is hella interesting to me (I say “hella” now instead of “wicked” because I live in San Diego now), but I have to be honest with myself: I’m never actually going to read this book.

Project List: n/a

Title: Wild Among Us: True Adventures of a Female Wildlife Photographer Who Stalks Bears, Wolves, Mountain Lions, Wild Horses and Other Elusive Wildlife
Author: Toth-Smith, Pat
Date Added: 9/9/2013

Verdict: Keep. Do I own this book? I feel like I own this book. I feel like someone bought it for my daughter and that if all of our books weren’t in storage, I would be able to go to the bookshelf and say, “Oh! There it is!” But maybe it’s actually another book about bears. Well, whether we own it or not, it looks like a good one. And if we don’t own it, I should definitely have someone buy it for my daughter.

Project List: none.

Title: What the Buddha Never Taught: A ‘Behind the Robes” Account of Life in a Thai Forest Monastery
Author: Ward, Tim
Date Added: 9/9/2013

Verdict: Keep. A memoir about the life of a layperson in a Buddhist monastery seems like something I could get into.

Project List: none.

Title: Fear of Flying
Author: Jong, Erica
Date Added: 9/9/2013

Verdict: Go. I think this is here because I think I’m supposed to read Erica Jong because she’s, like, important or something, but around the time my son was born, she wrote something about marital sex that I found insulting, and I haven’t much liked her since.

Project List: n/a

Title: Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks
Author: Lanza, Michael
Date Added: 9/10/2013

Verdict: Go. I love visiting national parks (in the US and in other countries), and I’m incessantly planning epic road trips to help me visit as many as I can, but I’d rather visit them than read about it, and I don’t need to be convinced about the effects of climate change on our biosphere.

Project List: n/a

Title: Undoing Gender
Author: Butler, Judith
Date Added: 9/14/2013

Verdict: Go. I really enjoyed hearing Judith Butler in an interview on NPR, and I find the cultural, performative nature of gender unendingly interesting, but I decided way back in TBR List Declutter Issue 22 that I would read Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine instead.

Project List: n/a

Title: Oddly Normal: One Family’s Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality
Author: Schwartz, John R.
Date Added: 9/14/2013

Verdict: Go. I think this might be a book for Baby Boomer, hyper-religious, or otherwise sheltered parents who are blindsided by the fact that they have a child who is not cisgender heterosexual. My children and I have friends all over the sexual orientation and gender spectrum, and we’ve talked about the different ways of being a family and the cultural nature of gender and loving whom we love since before they were verbal. I would hope that as a result, our social network and our family are robust enough to help carry them through any crisis they have, be it related to sexuality or not. (And now that I’ve said this and gotten all cocky, watch the Fates send us something that will really, really put this to the test and take me down a few pegs.)

Project List: n/a

Title: The Orphan Master’s Son
Author: Johnson, Adam
Date Added: 9/22/2013

Verdict: Keep. A “Pulitzer Prize-winning tour de force,” apparently. And it’s about North Korea, which might be intimately involved in the future use of nuclear weapons both on and by my country of birth. Well, then. I’d better keep it on my list.

Project List: none.

Title: The Examined Life
Author: Grosz, Stephen
Date Added: 10/10/2013

Verdict: Go. The description makes it sound like this book deals with the stories we construct to make sense of our lives, but based on the reviews, it sounds like it doesn’t actually do that. And it’s about psychoanalysis, which seems like a weird, not very pragmatic practice to me (says the woman who has typed millions of words mostly about herself into a blog).

Project List: n/a

Title: From the Mouth of the Whale
Author: Sjón
Date Added: 10/11/2013

Verdict: Keep. I’m not actually sure if I’ll like this one. Based on the reviews, it sounds like it might be intentionally confusing, clever, and affected. But it’s by an Icelandic author, and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by an Icelandic author. So, let’s give it a try.

Project List: none.

Ten more titles off the list for a total of 137 of 390 (18.3% of the original 750).

Any thoughts about which I kept and which I tossed?

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