I’ve Got an Instapaper Problem

In theory, Instapaper is genius. In practice, it’s a disaster. At least that’s true for this slow and distracted reader.

Like an overstuffed junk drawer, my Instapaper account is beyond overflowing. If you’d asked me how many articles I’d saved over 10+ years my guess would have been 100 or so. Today I saved an article to, you know, read later, and saw that I have done so no less than 2,107 times.

IMG_5513.jpegThe oldest article in the list is from more than 10 years ago: “5 Best Columns from the Atlantic Wire” and the most recent is from this morning, “The Novelist Who Saw Middle America as It Really Was”, about Sinclair Lewis.

Along the way I saved articles about Mike Shanahan, John McPhee, Allen Iverson, Lindsey Buckingham and Masayuki Uemura.

And get this! One of the articles I saved was “Read It Later Apps Compared.”

My knee-jerk response was to delete anything I saved longer than 12 months ago, or go with the nuclear option and delete everything. But then I started scrolling through and realized that this unwieldy collection of links is actually kind of a time capsule containing my interests across a decade.

So what am I to do? I’d like to think I’ll stop saving articles but it’s so easy — and free — to file them away why would I stop? It’s not like these are books piling up on my nightstand. Quite the contrary, they are the ultimate example of out of sight, out of mind.

Maybe what I’ll do is use Instapaper to save select articles when I’ve finished reading them. That might actually work. Then it will be a true archive and not a nagging reminder of unkept promises to myself.

In the meantime, I’m turning off that number on the app’s badge. I mean, that’s just piling on.

John McPhee

My favorite college English professor, also my overall favorite, Dr. John Cooley, introduced me to the prolific nonfiction writer, John McPhee.

Feature and Article Writing, was the first writing class I thoroughly enjoyed and my grade reflected it.

“If you want to learn about structure and rhythm, read John McPhee,” he said. As luck would have it, The John McPhee Reader was on my book list for the class. (Years later, he published The Second John McPhee Reader, and yeah, I bought it.)

In March, John McPhee turned 90, and The New Yorker, where nearly all his books first appeared as long — I mean long — articles, published his latest, “Tubula Rasa, Volume Two” in the April 19 issues. It comes more than a year after “Tubula Rasa, Volume One” appeared in the magazine.

A Sense of Where You Are”, a feature about NBA great and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, was the first McPhee piece I read, followed by “Levels of the Game”, about Arthur Ashe.

The man is a machine and I’m glad John Cooley told me about him more than 30 years ago.

A Reading Reality Check

For all these years, I thought of myself as a reader. I’d always subscribed to magazines, bought paper books, and downloaded books on the Kindle and iPad. Over that time, each of those items piled up on coffee tables and nightstands, and then on my devices.

After nearly 35 years, I’ve come to realize that I’m only an aspiring reader. I’ve accumulated lots of things to read and only get to about 10 percent of it. (I think this is because I read at snail’s pace … presuming snails read as slowly as they move.) Another reason is that blogs, newsletters and online newspapers take up most of my reading time.

Oh, and podcasts.

And YouTube videos.

I’m not buying books of anymore and instead will check them out of my library, digitally, using the handy Libby app — and preferrably in audiobook format if possible.

So, at last I’m cutting myself some slack on the volume of reading I “should” be doing. Feels good.