TBR List Declutter, Issue 49

Tangent: TBR Tough Love

Since we moved to California, I’ve not been reading much. Even accounting for months of transition and determining where everything from our old house should go in our new house, I’m not reading as much as I usually do.

I’m not sure why that is, but I have four hypotheses:

  1. Overuse of my smartphone. I held out against getting a smartphone for a long time because I knew—I knew—that I would get attached to it. And now, despite my best intentions, it’s in my hand more often than I’d like it to be. It’s my camera, it’s my alarm clock, it’s where I store our library card bar codes and grocery store loyalty cards, it’s my GPS, and it’s my interval timer for workouts. And it’s sometimes a phone. It’s all of this, and it’s a constant source of distraction, a possible source of pleasant diversion in my pocket at all times. I place limits, but I’m a grown-up and after years and years of pushing against limits, it’s very tough to get myself to accept self-imposed limits. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
  2. Constant sunshine and near-constantly moderate temperatures. The incredible weather here in Southern California is still a novelty to me, and no book so far has compared with the enjoyment of just being outside as much as I can be. I’ve missed two readathons so far this year because of the beautiful weather. And yes, I can read outside, but it’s not as comfortable and I keep getting distracted by hummingbirds (and my phone; see hypothesis 1).
  3. Early bedtime. Finally, finally, I’ve been able to keep a reasonable bedtime. But sleeping more means reading less.
  4. Reading aloud to my children. We’ve begun using the Build Your Library homeschool curriculum, and part of this is a list of books that I read aloud to both of my children. This is indeed reading, but it’s also much, much slower reading than I can do silently. This can be a wonderful thing as it slows me down enough to catch nuances I miss during faster readings. There was so much more to Fahrenheit 451 and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler than I realized before reading them aloud. But taking more time on each book means fewer books read overall.

The smartphone thing I still want to work on, but there is nothing at all bad about spending more time outdoors or getting adequate sleep or sharing books with my children. There’s actually a lot to recommend all of these practices. I guess I just need to work on readjusting my priorities to accommodate all of the good stuff. And on adjusting my self-identification as a “reader.”

Recognizing this new reality, I’m going to tighten my TBR belt a little. Issue 48 was weak for scrapping titles. This issue, I’m going to put on my game face, adjust my bra straps, get a cup of coffee and maybe a little snack, and get tough on these titles.

Visual Interest:


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


Titles 691-710:

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On Keeping My Dumb Phone

My spouse decided this week to take advantage of a work discount program and get a smartphone, and I don’t like it.

My phone has an animation of an aquarium. What does your phone have?
My phone has an animation of an aquarium. What does your phone have?

I have the Sanyo Katana flip phone I got for free in 2006. I know how to use it, and I know how to forget about it in my purse so that whenever I need it it’s gone dead and I have to plug it into the car charger in order to use it. And this is on a phone that holds a charge for a week. If I had a smartphone, I’d have to devote an entire to-do-list line item to remembering to recharge it.

In addition, smartphones…

Promote antisocial tendencies.

I’m not even talking about the way everyone’s face is stuck in a screen every moment their eyes aren’t actively engaged in seeing something else. I’m talking about how no one’s allowed to just have a conversation anymore. When someone says, “Who’s the guy who did the painting of the apple in front of the guy’s face?” there’s no more, “Oh, isn’t that Miró? A friend sent me a postcard with that painting on it one time, and she was really into Miró at the time.” There’s no more, “No, I think it’s Manet. I watched a t.v. documentary about him back in the late 90’s.”

There’s no more of that kind of exchange because someone’s always got a smartphone to fact-check. I have nothing against facts, but really, the point isn’t who the heck painted the picture of the apple-face guy (Magritte, for those of you without smartphones), it’s the discussion, the human connection that’s destroyed by a hand-held smart(ass)phone.

Discourage research and forward-planning.

Now that everyone can just e-mail or text each other all the time and look up restaurants on the fly, people just head out with only the barest skeleton of a plan. Chaos and anarchy just don’t work for me. I want to know where we’re going and when we plan to get there, and I want a half-dozen paper maps to consult if plans go awry.

But on the flip side, smart phones also…

Discourage independent discovery.

My spouse was making a beer run this weekend in an unfamiliar town in Maine, so he borrowed our friend’s smartphone to find the beer store our friend had looked up. Turns out he didn’t need the phone because there’s a little beer store right on the main road on the way to the other beer place, which he’d have figured out even without the phone.

But even if smartphones weren’t evil, I wouldn’t want one because I have no willpower. I have lots of willpower in other areas of my life. I can rock an elimination diet like nobody’s business, but I can’t help but check my e-mail during every remotely spare moment I have and jump down every rabbit hole I encounter along the way. And this is just with my laptop. If I had a smartphone, I would spend my entire life in Alice in Wonderland. Within two weeks, I’d be sitting on a giant mushroom smoking a hookah and giving passersby tangential Wikipedia-inspired responses to their direct questions.

And where would that leave my children?

Wherever it is, I know they’ll end up there eventually because it’s clear to me that smartphones are as inevitable as they are evil. Chances are, my face will be bathed in the bluish glow of a tiny screen by next summer. Until then, I’ll just keep complaining.

Written as part of the yeah write weekly challenge.

Smartphone Mind Control?

My mom is visiting, which means we’ve been spending a lot of time at big box home improvement stores.

Today we were browsing the ceiling fans in case the wobble in the fan in my daughter’s room can’t be removed without replacing the fan when a young man dressed in white shorts and a white shirt walked by. He wore white ear buds and was staring down at a smart phone he was carrying in front of him. About every six steps, he would pause with his feet side by side for a moment, then continue walking for another six steps. He walked right towards us as if he didn’t see us, or perhaps as though he had to continue walking along the same line regardless of human obstructions. When it became clear he wasn’t going to change course to move around us, my mom and I moved the kids out of his path and watched him in silence as he took six steps, paused, took six more steps, paused, then disappeared around the end of the aisle after about three more steps.

My mom and I looked at each other, and then looked back towards direction the man had gone.

“You ought to get better at texting and walking separately before trying them together,” my mom said, rather more loudly than I felt comfortable with. The man with the phone didn’t seem to notice her, though; he simply continued his six-steps-pause-six-steps pattern around the store.

Later near the propane grills, we found another guy wearing ear buds and looking at his smart phone. He walked to one end of the grills, consulted the smart phone, then turned and walked to the other end. He walked more quickly than the first guy. After consulting his smart phone at the end of one aisle of grills, he rounded the corner, looked at his smart phone, and walked down the other aisle of grills.

We wandered about the store a little longer, looking for various items (and finding some of them). We were headed down towards the trash cans when we saw another man dressed all in black and wearing ear buds, sitting on the floor in the middle of the aisle, staring at his smart phone.

Now we were starting to feel unsettled.

“It’s almost like they’re comparison shopping,” my mom said. “I used to do that when I worked retail.”

“But that guy was sitting on the floor,” I observed, looking behind me to see that he was still where we’d left him.

“Well, maybe the other two guys,” my mom suggested.

“It’s like The Twilight Zone,” I said.

I found it odd in retrospect that the guy who’d mixed our paint had talked about The Twilight Zone out of the blue just minutes before we encountered the guy in white.

We made a detour to look at the flooring and tile patterns for backsplashes (just because we like to look at those things, not because we planned to buy them). After listening to my daughter whine that she was bored for about the fifteenth time, we headed towards the checkout.

“Wait, let’s look at the…” My mother began to suggest something else to browse when she stopped talking. Walking in our direction was the guy in white, still with the earbuds, smart phone, and six-steps-pause-six-steps pattern.

“On second thought, let’s just get out of here before the pod people get us,” my mother said.

And we checked out and left.

I have some ideas about who these men may have been.

1. Comparison shoppers. I really don’t buy this one.

2. Escaped subjects in a government mind-control experiment. Why they would all have gone to Home Depot this afternoon, I’m not at all sure.

3. Participants in a performance art thing in which each person takes on a set pattern of behavior, like the ghosts in Pac Man, and roam about the store always acting in accordance with the pattern. Maybe they intended to make some point about our reliance on technology rather than interpersonal interactions, and the way in which being part of the consumer culture makes us mindlessly engage in actions that don’t have any larger purpose. We’re near Boston. They do that kind of thing here, right?

4. Men sent by their spouses or significant others to buy home improvement items who were instead stretching out their time in the store to get some alone time. They were perhaps listening through their earbuds to AC/DC or Black Sabbath or conservative talk radio or something else of which their partners disapprove.

5. Pod people.

Do you have any other ideas about what these guys may have been doing with their ear buds and their smart phones and their odd behavior?