Friday, June 27, 2014

At The End Of The Day...

...I really want to learn to read again.

For me, the situation is very similar to that described by Corey Robin (although, luckily for me, the chair thing is already over and done with):

Like most academics, I read articles and books. Unlike most academics (maybe, I don’t really know), reading has become harder and harder for me. Not simply because of the distractions that come with department politics, administrative duties (come July 1, I’m chair of my department), advising grad students, and teaching. I wish it were as noble as that. No, the reason I find it so difficult to read these days, now years, is the internet....

The internet indeed.

Not because it's bad (although there is that), but rather because it's so darned good.

Back when we still had the VW (notso) Microbus I sometimes dealt with this issue by parking the thing on that stretch of West 16th that slices through Pacific Spirit Park between Blanca and Wesbrook. I would then climb in the back, and swing out the table so that I could spend an hour or three uninterrupted by my own quest for peripheral knowledge (and/or the latest identified mutations/amplifications of a small leucine-rich mucin we were working on at the time).

Here's how NYC dweller Rubin deals with it:

...Here’s how I do it. After I drop off my daughter at school or summer camp, I jump on the subway. I ride the rails for three to four hours. Maybe the F train: out to Coney Island, back through Brooklyn, into Manhattan, out to Forest Hills, and then back. Or if I’m pressed for time, just the Q train: again out to Coney, back through Brooklyn, into Manhattan, out to Astoria, and back. Or if I’m in the mood for a change, the B or the D trains: they ultimately take me to the Bronx and back.

I take nothing with me but my book and a pen. I take notes on the front and back pages of the book. If I run out of pages, I carry a little notebook with me. I never get off the train (except, occasionally, to meet my wife for lunch in Manhattan.) I have an ancient phone, so there’s no internet or desire to text, and I’m mostly underground, so there are no phone calls.

When I get back, I sometimes post about my little rides and what I’m reading on Facebook: Schumpeter in Queens, The Theory of Moral Sentiments in the Bronx, Hayek in Brooklyn. The more incongruous, the better, though sometimes I find some funny or interesting parallels between what I’m reading and where I’m riding and what I’m seeing.

But the joking on Facebook covers up my dirty little secret: I ride the rails to read because if I’m at home, and not writing, I’m on the internet. “It is not simply that one is interrupted,” as Park writes; “it is that one is actually inclined to interruption.”...


Maybe I should take a few Skytrain trips to Surrey.

When I was back east recently I took the train from Ottawa to Montreal and it was glorious...Only trouble was, the WiFi was outstanding....I worked, looking up latest specifics on microenvironmental immunomodulation during the progression of one pathological state to another...But I did not read.



karen said...

I find the Internet far too convenient too.

What would you read if you had the time and less convenient Internet?

RossK said...

Great question Karen...

How about everything Zadie Smith has ever written...Maybe twice!

Next, I would actually sit down with entire scientific journals in my field...That way I would read articles a little bit outside of what we actually do and therefore learn new stuff and make new connections.

Weird thing is, I still do it with newspapers...

Read them all the way through I mean.

How about you?


karen said...

During the school year I only read my textbooks and required reading, so in the summer I mostly like fiction. I like anything that makes me laugh or I like historical fiction. I'm reading "Frog Music" by Emma Donoghue right now. It's based on an actual murder that took place in San Francisco in 1876, which sounds awful, but her characters are really good - I quite like some of them. I also like non-fiction with a scientific bent. I'm also reading "The Violinist's Thumb" by Sam Keanu, which is kind of a social history of biology.

When I am not reading blogs, of course.

RossK said...


I've heard about Keanu's book - is it good?


karen said...

I like it, but I am only a first year biology student and I only knew Mendel as the guy who grew peas, nothing about the man. I have counted and typed fruit flies with a tiny brush on a ceramic tile, but I'd never heard of Thomas Hunt Morgan, Alfred Sturtevant or Calvin Bridges, so I enjoyed reading about them and their crazy lab. Chances are the actual information in the book is not new to you. But Kean (the u was a typo) is an entertaining writer and he clearly finds DNA fascinating.