I watched 88 episodes of Gilmore Girls in just the past two months, and read less than twelve books in all of 2015. I am confessing here because I think the shame of putting these two facts, side-by-side, out into the world might actually finally jolt me into amending for them. Eighty-eight episodes of Gilmore Girls, less than twelve books, and that famous line from Annie Dillard about how the way we spend our time is the way we spend our lives.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an anti-television snob. There’s a ton of incredible shows out there, shows every bit as worthy as the books collecting dust on my shelves (like Fargo, which I also binge-watched, and Mad Men, which I still miss). But Gilmore Girls is not one of those shows. And even if it were, that’s not really the point. The point is that I’ve swung too far in one direction and must now swing myself back, towards some happier non-brain-emulsifying middle ground. Fewer TV shows, more books. Full stop.
I’ve made an obnoxiously long reading list for 2016. And, just to show how serious I am, I’ve organized it by discipline (History of Medicine, Sociology of Science, Memoir, Mental Illness, Global Health, etc. etc. etc.). It would be impossible to clear the entire list in a year unless I gave up just about everything else in my life. But the point isn’t to clear the list; the point is to read more, and to read more consistently. And to maybe have some fun doing it.
I’m setting myself the goal of fifty pages a night. And, because I thought it would be fun, and fitting for this space, to blog my way through these three in particular, I’m starting with a trilogy of big sweeping science epics:
- Annals of the Former World by John McPhee (716 pages on the geological history of North America)
- The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes (896 pages on the history of nuclear physics right up to Hiroshima)
- The Eighth Day of Creation by Horace Freeland Judson (720 pages on the history of molecular biology)
That’s 2,332 pages total. Which, at 50 pages a day, comes out to just 47 days. If I keep it to just weekdays, that’s still only eight weeks. If I keep it to just the days that I am home and not traveling for work or otherwise engaged, that stretches it out to about 12-14 weeks. I’m looking at the three books right now, stacked on the coffee table in the center of my office, and I have to say that, given the heft, 24 weeks seems much more likely. But let’s see what happens.
Some goals for the project.
Science: I want to think critically about the wider historical context of individual discoveries, and to make note of the science itself as I learn or relearn it.
Story: I want to see how the narratives are structured and paced, and try to discern how each story’s main characters were excavated via reporting and reconstructed with written words. I want to see what traces of the actual work can be found in the final products. How exactly is the art and act of science turned into readable narrative? What parts get lost in translation, and what is the import of those losses?
Self: I want to pay close attention to what impact, if any, the change in how I spend my evenings has on me. Do I write better or more easily when I read more? Do I sleep easier? Am I happier? Is it always better to read than to watch TV? If so why?
Also, how much can I retain of what I consume, and does blogging help with that?
I’ve no real clue how the actual blogging will play out, but I plan to start towards the end of this week, and to post weekly on it from there.