Over the last several years I’ve gotten into some sloppy reading habits, like getting my news almost exclusively on Facebook and Yahoo, never actually reading a real book or even taking the time to digest a real, substantive article. Forget magazines, or anything that requires an attention span of longer than two minutes. Pitiful! That’s like subsisting on a fast food diet of news: sure you can hide your habit but after a while, it’s gotta be pretty obvious that’s all you know.
Yeah, yeah….I could argue I’m a busy working mom to three active kids so who’s got time? Plus I have a strong intellectual base to work with but enough is enough. It’s still garbage in, garbage out.
Oh, and let’s talk about the impact that the news cycle not to mention various fake sources had on the US presidential election last year. I’m liberal and all but I frequently have a difficult time stomaching the headlines from CNN. But even still: somehow I can tell the difference between legitimate news and propaganda on Facebook, yet I could tell who among my friends couldn’t. Didn’t we Americans learn this in civics class or were only some of us paying attention? Sure, we don’t have Walter Cronkite to trustworthily shape the stories of the day anymore, but have we all gotten THAT lazy that anything repeated often enough is considered the truth?
Don’t answer that…. I’m pretty sure I know the answer.
Anyway, enter resolution #2 for 2017: read more. And this being my 2017 Check-in, so far I’ve been making good on this one, too.
It does beg the question whether I am conveniently failing to mention the goals I bombed this year, but I digress. =)
Not only did I resolve to read more, I really pushed myself to improve the quality of what I was reading. Now in times past, if a friend of mine was sharing a message on Facebook, one that was clearly a hoax and it would make them look stupid, I’d provide a link to the Snopes site to debunk the myth in question and help my friend save face. However in the year leading up to the election, it became a lot harder to do because I found that I would be outright fighting with people over their blind adherence to ridiculous story lines. It became pretty clear that people weren’t interested in a conversation or learning something for that matter…they were far more interested in making their position known, essentially confirming what was already in their hearts and minds.
All that craziness made me question honestly whether I was in fact fairly considering all sides to an argument. How could SO MANY people share news articles from dubious sources as if they were legitimate? Do they have any idea how crazy they look engaging in this behavior? And then once it was known that there were definite propaganda pages on Facebook, why did people continue to get sucked in?
Then I found this graphic, from Vanessa Otero, which does an amazing job of dissecting what’s out there. After the clickbait headlines of CNN annoyed me to no end, I found myself checking Reuters and BBC for more measured takes on the news of the day.
I also started reading Vox, the Atlantic, Slate, and The Hill in addition to my subscription to the Wall Street Journal. I wanted substantive articles about the issues of the day and I’m looking for a balanced perspective. For good measure, most days I glance at the headlines and occasionally read articles from the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and HuffPost.
Ok, I’m so busted: HuffPost is my guilty pleasure. Every single day I navigate to their site just to see what 50-point screaming, rhyming headline they’ve come up with for the news cycle. It cracks me up. Otherwise, I’m there for the health and psychology articles but now that Adrianna Huffington has created Thrive.com, I’ve found a new haunt.
All of this change in the news that I read has helped. I’ve stopped getting my news primarily from Facebook, Yahoo, and CNN. I feel better informed about the issues of the day. Dear heavens, never in a million years did I think I could tell you the name of more than a half-dozen senators let alone where they’re from, what party they represent, and what issues they support or what scandals they’ve been involved in but I sure as heck know now! I guess I wish I wasn’t quite so…..weary of it all. I’m not even the political wonk in the family. I just care, DEEPLY.
Honestly how can anyone not pay attention or care what’s happening in the US?
Oh well, that’s not really the point of my “read more” resolution, but the effort to take in better news sources was certainly timely and opportunistic.
No, the real goal of my “read more” resolution was to make good on reading real honest-to-goodness books. I’ve had a Goodreads account for ages but never really used it. This year I saw a reading challenge, so I set a pretty audacious goal of reading ten books. TEN! I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know if I’ve had a year when I’ve read ten books. Let’s get real: I’m not into fiction. Nope, I’m the chick that read the encyclopedia as a kid. Really, I did. This explains so much about my dating life, but again, I digress.
I’m an insatiable information junkie, so my goal was ten substantive books, not ten Harlequin novels. (Do those still exist? On a side note did you know there’s such a thing as dinosaur erotica? I was going to say “don’t ask me how I know that” but then you’d think I was a reader. Eww…..no! I heard about it on a podcast about side hustles. But really: dinosaur erotica? WTH? There’s an audience for that? Huh. Obviously I am not getting creative enough with my spare time.)
So here’s where I got CLEVER with the old reading challenge….I wasn’t just planning on reading random non-fiction. Nope, I deliberately chose books on health, women, creativity, and resilience so it would support the other goals I set for myself this year. Here’s what I’ve read so far:
- The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes
- Adrenal Thyroid Revolution by Aviva Romm
- 10% Happier by Dan Harris
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
- How to Live a Good Life by Jonathan Fields
- But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman
Most of these were ideas I got from podcasts I listen to. That will have to be the subject of another post sometime.
The first book, The Case Against Sugar, was a tough read to start the year: a lot of content in tiny print on several pages. I’d have to say I’ve been catching on for some time that sugar is not my friend. At all. Sugar behaves like a frenemy….nice to my face but awful behind my back. If you saw my butt you’d know what I mean. Gary Taubes has written a couple of books on health and obesity but I have to say this tome about sugar was absolutely fascinating including its history as a health supplement and how candy bars were considered health food during WWII. Not to mention how tobacco leaves are steeped in sugar to give the nicotine more power. Fascinating stuff but probably not the easiest read for most people.
Regarding the Adrenal Thyroid Revolution, I heard Dr. Romm speak on an autoimmune podcast. It seems my thyroid is acting wacky for starters, and I had a setback about two years ago that absolutely put me in a tailspin. And the month I feel like I finally came out of it, I was hit with near debilitating fatigue. Like, I felt I could collapse at my desk at any moment fatigue. As in, I have a 30 minute driving commute home from work and I could not stay awake for it; I had to pull over on the side of the road and nap in order to make it home safely. I knew that wasn’t normal. I learned that adrenal fatigue could be the culprit, and that you just don’t necessarily get better on your own. Dr. Romm discussed a number of conditions and a protocol for dealing with it that was compelling. I learned a lot more about my health and what I may be dealing with but it still wasn’t enough for me to take action.
10% Happier is a short, quick read and a great book if you’re wondering about all the hubbub around meditation. Does meditation really help clear your mind? (Spoiler alert: no.) Does meditation give you a few more seconds of pause before you impulsively react to the crap that happens to you? (Spoiler: yes!) Is this a good thing? Yes! Dan Harris, journalist and initial skeptic, breaks down all the woo-woo for you and gives you the purely practical reasons why meditation works. His journey to meditation starting with his on-air panic attack and prior drug use is raw, honest, and refreshing. I like people who get real.
Speaking of real, few people exemplify that more than Glennon Doyle of Momastery.com blog fame. That woman has a way with words. When the Syrian refugee crisis hit its news cycle zenith when that helpless little toddler boy washed up dead on the shores of Greece, she didn’t just wring her hands in despair. She took action and mobilized money to help those poor souls. I’ve been following her for a couple of years. Say whatever you may want about her back story and her marriage now to women’s soccer star Abby Wambach, she has a heart of gold and epitomizes the love warrior. I thought her book would be a bit more about that instead of the story of her first marriage. Not my favorite book of the bunch but I still like Glennon’s honesty and take on life.
Man’s Search for Meaning: how do you begin to dissect a classic like this? I chose it because I’ve seen it quoted countless times over the last 30 years and because the timing certainly seems right to remember the atrocities committed against people who were “other”. Why this isn’t required reading in every high school class in America, I don’t know. Mere words can’t do justice to what Viktor Frankl shared in terms of his concentration camp days. The second half of the book was academic but inspiring. Given all of the quotes from Frankl, I am surprised I haven’t seen more references to a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast as a bookend to the Statue of Liberty. He is definitely onto something when he said they go hand in hand. How much despair exists among Americans today because they don’t feel a sense of responsibility toward anything, just a sense of entitlement?
Jonathan Fields has quickly become one my favorite podcast personalities. I could deep think all day. Once upon a time, I tried to dissect what would make for a good life and I loved his take on the subject in How to Live a Good Life. He breaks the endeavor into three buckets, any one of which runs dry and you suffer as a result. This resonated enormously with me. I took his advice to read each chapter one day at a time, and ended up stalling my reading effort for the year. This is a book I will no doubt revisit and apply the ideas within.
Finally Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We’re Wrong? was a Christmas gift from my boss. There is a running joke in my home that I’m never wrong….whether my boss (who’s really cool, by the way), knows that it’s the running joke, I don’t know. So first thought was, “NO WAY, she gave me a gift! How nice!” then, “Hmmm….is there a hidden message with this?” lol
Now, my career as an auditor required that I gather all the facts, trust my gut, and hold people to a (high) standard. Well, let’s just say that rubs off in daily life. I don’t just spew uninformed opinions. I do my research and I’m aware of the impact of bias, and I want to guard against it.
Regarding this book, took me a few months to pick it up but it ended up being a great read and a welcome gut check. It essentially reminds us that there are ideas we hold dearly as rock-solid answers that later turn out to be wholly false, such as the sun revolved around the Earth. Or things we say are the color blue today were always called blue. It cautions us that we may now hold certain rock-solid ideas as a definitive fact when we will find out in later years that we were completely wrong.
Not that I’m looking for internet trolls to spew hate at me, but I need a swift kick in the butt now and then. I need a compelling argument to allow me to see a side of the conversation I could not see before. Kinda like the concept of white privilege. When I first heard about it, I mocked the idea because believe me, I didn’t grow up with privilege to speak of. But when I listened to what is meant by that turn of phrase, I realized that I was wrong.
Not sure what’s on tap for the rest of the year. Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat, Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala, and Angela Duckworth’s Grit are the likely candidates.
Read more. Listen. Never stop learning.