TABula Rasa in the New Year

"Along Came Pocket."

Along Came Pocket

There comes a time in every person’s life when we experience something so great that we just need to shout about it from the rooftops. We want everyone we meet to know just how lucky we are. And we hope that one day they too will experience it.

That’s how I feel about Pocket.

Seriously though, with the new year upon us, I’ve decided to tell the world about an amazing app that I believe will help anyone who wants to clean up their internet tab situation and begin 2016 with a blank slate: a tabula rasa, you might say.

My Tab Problem

I’m a lifelong learner, a consumer of informative writing, interesting articles, well-crafted fiction, self-improvement pieces, personal essays, and ground-breaking journalism. However, the amount of reading material out there is overwhelming. The internet provides us with an amazing buffet of mostly free writing (whether I agree that it all should be free is a different story). It all sounds so good that I often don’t know where to start. So I open tabs in my browser. Lots of tabs.

I’ve been guilty of having at least 20 tabs open at a time on both my personal laptop and on my work computer (though I’m sure other people have hoarded more than that). I’m always coming across new articles, and my Facebook news feed is constantly flooded with enticing links. So I’d open more tabs. And because no one can possibly read all those articles in one sitting, I’d just leave them up and never turn off my computer. That system update that requires me to restart my computer? I’d been clicking “Remind me in 4 hours” for almost a year.

This vast array of tabs slowed my browser down so much that it was painful to navigate any webpage I was actually using. I’d also have a heart attack whenever my computer randomly shut down (my battery is terrible). Each time that happened, I’d lose everything I was “planning” to read over the next ten years!

Sometimes I tried emailing myself the articles. Sometimes I’d post them on my Facebook wall to read later. Sometimes I bookmarked them. It could have worked in theory, but I often forgot about them the next day, and came across new articles on Facebook. And opened more tabs. Sound familiar?

How Pocket Helped Me

Despite how it sounds, I love being organized. My tab addiction was also my biggest pet peeve. I just wanted a simple way to keep track of my growing reading list without breaking my computer. Then, along came Pocket.

I don’t remember how I came across it (hopefully not by opening yet another tab), but I took to the app instantly. I saved all my pending reading material in my Pocket account, and finally, finally, turned off my computer.

Pocket is an app that allows users to “read it later.” It can be integrated into all browsers and accessed from all devices at pretty much any time—even without the internet. When you access Pocket, the program shows you a running list of all of the articles you’ve saved to it, presented in a clean and organized way. It allows you to create tags as well. For example, my most useful tags are “writing advice,” “about blogging,” and “for Dave” (these are articles I plan to read with my boyfriend). It also lets you archive articles once you’re done reading them so they’re removed from your reading list, but not lost forever.

Here’s how I did it:

  • I downloaded Pocket for free.
  • I added the Pocket extension to my Chrome browser (it’s located at the top right of the browser, next to my Pinterest and Evernote extensions).
  • I also downloaded the Pocket app on my phone and synced my account.
  • Whenever I come across an article I want to read later, I click the Pocket extension button in my browser and it automatically saves the article to my list. Then I close out (yes, actually close out) of the article.
  • If I’m on my phone, I copy the article URL and then open up my Pocket app. It asks me right away if I want to save the copied URL to my list. Of course, I click yes.
  • Over the past few months, I’ve begun tackling my list, article by article. If I have a free moment on my commute, I open up Pocket and read. I’m trying to read about one article per day. When I’m done with one, I just archive it and move on to the next article in my list (though you can read them in any order).
  • At this point my list has grown to include over 100 articles to read. I haven’t been perfect about it, but at least those aren’t all open at once on my computer.
  • Pocket also has a “Recommended” section that suggests articles to read based on the articles saved to your list. Yay knowledge!

I also want to mention that Pocket didn’t ask me to endorse their product. I just love it and had to share it with you. Pocket has helped make my quest for knowledge much more manageable, organized, and convenient. As an aspiring writer myself, I hope that one day something I’ve written ends up saved in a few Pocket accounts. That would mean I’m really starting to make it.

Now, go get Pocket and start closing those tabs. Happy New Year!

Developing a Book Diet

Credit: Ex-Smith (via Flickr)

Credit: Ex-Smith (via Flickr)

I’ve discovered that I need lists and (some) rules in order to function.

I usually make a daily list of things I need to do, and also keep an ongoing list of things to do over the next few months—or at some point in my life. The lists are always growing, but they’ve been helpful as my schedule has become increasingly packed (Post-Its and Evernote are now my true loves). There’s something really gratifying about checking things off—sometimes I go back and write something else I did that day just so I can check it off.

The one list I find hardest to tackle, though, is my to-read list. And this is because I don’t really keep an official one. It would just always be incomplete. There are so many things I want to read, just based on my own interests or on recommendations from friends, librarians, podcasts, author interviews, book recommendation websites, and the multitude of other reader resources out there.

My current To-Read List is composed of the physical books sitting on my bookshelf and the books I’ve designated as “To-Read” on my Goodreads account. But even if this list were to be “complete,” it’s still difficult to decide what to read next.

Once I get past the existential angst it causes me, I wonder: Should I read that Best American Short Stories collection? Or how about A GAME OF THRONES and its sequels, or Donna Tartt’s new book so I can have timely discussions with people? Or maybe I should try a poetry collection, or that novel my former writing professor published, or that Malcolm Gladwell book on decision-making? Perhaps that Ernest Hemingway book my friend lent me, or that huge Amber Chronicles compilation my boyfriend bought and annotated for me, or that Stephen King book on horror stories I grabbed from the free bookshelf at Simon & Schuster two years ago? I have many more rhetorical questions about what to read next, but I’ll refrain from listing them all for you.

Upon figuring out that this is quite the reader dilemma, I came up with a book diet (a reading sequence) to rotate through and give myself some kind of direction. It’s based not on individual books themselves, but on genre (and other criteria). That way, I can slowly check off books on my list while also getting the well-rounded reading experience I crave.

Creating a reading sequence like this seems to be in line with some advice that George R.R. Martin has on his website for aspiring authors. On his FAQ page, he writes:

“The most important thing for any aspiring writer, I think, is to read! And not just the sort of thing you’re trying to write, be that fantasy, SF, comic books, whatever. You need to read everything. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers. Read history, historical fiction, biography. Read mystery novels, fantasy SF, horror, mainstream, literary classics, erotica, adventure, satire. Every writer has something to teach you, for good or ill. (And yes, you can learn from bad books as well as good ones—what not to do).”

It certainly helps to know that even crappy books can teach reading writers important lessons, so it doesn’t feel like a waste of time if one ends up reading something they don’t like. Anyway, here’s my reading sequence I’ve come up with—the book diet I will try to follow from now on.

My Book Diet

  • Contemporary Novel
  • Short Story Collection
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror
  • Experimental
  • Nonfiction – On Writing (or an author biography)
  • Mook (a book made into a movie. My friend Alyssa, over at Mookology, coined the term)
  • Classic
  • Written by an Author I’ve Read
  • Nonfiction – General (anything not on writing/authors)
  • Poetry
  • Modern Classic
  • Written by a friend/teacher
  • YA
  • Literary Magazine

What’s your book diet? Please share your literary recipes. Am I missing anything? (Based on Martin’s suggestions,  should consider adding erotica to the list?)

 

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