What I Read in 2013

Since I was too busy this year reading everyone else’s posts — rather than writing my own — I thought to share some of my favorite reads, publications, and blogs I’ve enjoyed this year. This list isn’t comprehensive or all-encompassing, nor are my selections meant to be “must-reads” for everyone. Rather, I’ve pulled together the stuff I’m personally interested in, and writing that has inspired or shaped me (and my own ideas) in some way.

Lydia Kiesling’s “Paucity of Art in the Age of Big Data,” Ellen Cushing’s “The Bacon-Wrapped Economy,” and Gary Kamiya’s “Arise, Tenderloin” are three standouts about the tech scene and changing socioeconomic landscape in San Francisco.

My quest to find the great tech novel . . . is in itself a kind of solutionism.

— Lydia Kiesling

While I’ll always have a soft spot for San Francisco — it’s the location of many of my life’s “firsts” — I don’t really feel a connection to this city anymore.

I miss the San Francisco of 15 years ago.

On that note, I’m moving. More on that below.

I’ve enjoyed a number of pieces on the value of archives — of timeless, meaningful writing that transcends a moment, that rises above the stream. I loved Alexis Madrigal’s recent Atlantic essay, “The Year the Stream Crested,” on how today’s internet is never finished, and his thoughts about what’s next, beyond now. While reading it, I revisited my fears of over-consumption and drowning in this ever-flowing stream of online information, but realize more and more the value of writing that lasts, and that is not time-stamped, both in my work and personal projects.

Likewise, Aaron Lammer’s “The Archive is a Campsite” at Contents was a nice read:

The web is our campground, and decisions made today will affect what future generations find there.

I loved Joy by Zadie Smith at The New York Review of Books, in which she wrote about the distinction between joy and pleasure; I was especially drawn to it because of her references to ecstasy and dancing, which prompted me to write about shared joy earlier this year.

I appreciated Phillip Lopate’s thoughts on the essay as an exercise in doubt:

The mistake is in trying to tune out your doubts. Accept them as a necessary (or at least unavoidable) soundtrack.

I’ve read a number of thoughtful posts on Twitter this year, and enjoyed Kathryn Schulz’s How Twitter Hijacked My Mind, illustrating well the quirks and addictive qualities of the network. I also liked Roxane Gay’s thoughts on Twitter on STET:

 We may not know each other but we know something of each other.

While on the topic of Twitter, I liked “Behind the Tweets: The Secretive People Behind SF’s Fog, Seagulls, and Bridges” at SF Weekly, which is a fun article on the Twitter accounts of famous things and landmarks in San Francisco, like my pal @KarlTheFog. (I chatted with him here in spring 2012 in his very first interview.)

I also liked the selections in the Tumblr Art Symposium series at Hyperallergic; there’s some thoughtful commentary on Tumblr, like “The Social Ties That Unbind,” which talks about the notion of the elastic self — and the platform as an unbounded social network.

In “Writing Bytes,” the New York Times collected thoughts on storytelling and technology from notable writers. I’ve bookmarked it so I can revisit from time to time.

I clear the cache and wonder who might be watching, aggregating data, trying to glean meaning from my meander.

— Ander Monson, “Writing Bytes”


Aeon Magazine: There’s so much excellent writing here. Don’t miss Ross Andersen’s essays on science and philosophy, like “Omens,” which explores extinction and the future of humanity, and “Embracing the void,” about a desert masterpiece called Star Axis.

I also recently read and loved “On tour,” about life on the road with a rock band:

It’s strange, but travel teaches me more about time than it does about place.

— Claire L. Evans

STET: I appreciate the pieces here on writing, publishing, and the web, written by the team at Editorially. The design and illustrations on this site are wonderful; they complement the writing well. In addition to Roxane Gay’s thoughts on Twitter mentioned above, I liked Allen Tan’s ideas on design and interactive storytelling in “Attention, rhythm & weight”:

We know how to design on paper, but screens exist in a state of flux.

Vela Magazine: I recommend the essays at Vela, which features women writers (including a few favorites of mine like my friend Miranda Ward (from A Literal Girl) and Hanoi-based writer Lauren Quinn. I also enjoy Sarah Menkedick’s writing, like this piece on the MFA and the pleasures and pains of the writing life.

Stories of Conflict and Love: Reading Roxanne Krystalli’s blog on conflict, gender, storytelling, personal musings, and photography is always a pleasure.

Cyborgology: I haven’t been reading this blog as regularly as I used to, but when I do, I’m drawn to the work of Sarah Wanenchak, and often ideas around time and space.

The New Inquiry: This year, I especially liked “Autofill Mythologies,” “The Disconnectionists,” “Pics and It Didn’t Happen,” and “Intimacy as Text; Twitter as Toungue.”

Each week, I spend a lot of time reading new posts and blogs on WordPress.com. I published our 2013 editors’ picks on the WordPress.com blog and our newsletter, but also wanted to share some personal favorites that I read regularly:

Alec Nevala-Lee: An author and active blogger on writing, creativity, and more. “How to think in the shower” is a recent post I recommend, but there’s always something new on his blog, so I’m sure you’ll find something else.

Butterfly Mind: Creative nonfiction, memoir, and personal musings on writing, family, and parenting by Andrea Badgley. A warm, thoughtful voice; a solid writer.

Boy With a Hat: I always enjoy the words of Vincent Mars, from his really short posts to longer pieces on writing. A curious thinker and original voice. Try “Are You a Handwriter or a Typer?” or “How to Tame Your Greatest Enemy [Time].”

Brevity: I’d feel totally out-of-the-loop in regard to literary nonfiction, memoir, and essay if I weren’t following this blog.

Problem Machine: Intriguing, thought-provoking essays on game playing and narrative design.

The Frailest Thing: Consistently excellent commentary on technology and related themes by Michael Sacasas. Try “From Memory Scarcity to Memory Abundance” or “The Would-Be Assassin and the Camera.”

Callum Hackett: Generally thoughtful, well-written essays on culture, art, science, and more.

culturetwo: Lots of interesting discussions here on internet culture by Brian Droitcour, like “Selfies and Selfiehood,” 8==>, and “Instagram Problems.”

n j w v: There’s a mix of content on Nick Vossbrink’s blog; I like his commentary on photography in particular (such as “Looking at photos” and “Boston”).

tressiemc: The blog of scholar and activist Tressie McMillan Cottom, with thoughts on race, poverty, and culture.

Archaeology and Material Culture: Paul Mullins’ blog on consumer and material culture — timely, relevant discussions on consumerism, authenticity, and more.

Stan Carey: Irish linguist and editor Stan Carey writes about language and grammar in an engaging, entertaining way. I love his discussions on how the English language is evolving, especially in our digital and internet age.

Subatomic Tourism: Photography of miniature worlds. Enough said.

* * *

What’s next for me? I’m moving out of San Francisco in early 2014. My husband and I have exciting plans, which I’ll tell you about soon. I’ll be focusing on a new site, and a project that I think is a natural extension of Writing Through the Fog. 

I look forward to telling you more. For now, happy holidays — I’ll be in the Dominican Republic later this week, and will likely share photographs in the new year.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

15 thoughts on “What I Read in 2013

  1. Thanks for the interesting reads and striking photos. I especially like the purple and yellow lily pad photo–makes you stop and think. Happy trails again!

  2. Hi Cheri, thanks for this very interesting selection (and for the kind mention). I’ve been enjoying exploring the sites and pages I wasn’t aware of before.
    Good luck with the move!

  3. I’ll check on Alec Nevala Lee’s blog….catch my eye because, I always came up with bright ideas while showering, thanks for sharing. And, write more. Happy new year.

  4. love your blog. It’s very thoughtful. Many blogs out there now are so flippant and trying to portray an attitude instead of letting the writing bring you in. Not yours though. Your great writing brings the reader in naturally. Good luck in your future projects!

  5. Cheri, Congratulations to you and your husband. New beginnings and blessings in 2014. Will miss having you as one of our S.F. own. Always a pleasure to follow your blogs and appreciate your thoughtful musings always. Thanks for the long list of suggested reading… YIKES! more distractions from work. Cheers!

  6. There is nothing I love more than a list of new reads and links while I’m on vacation. I am so glad to read your own writing every single year and I’m looking forward to hearing where 2014 takes you. Thank you for the lovely shout out and happy holidays, dearest!

  7. There’s a lot of meat here for holiday reading – I can’t wait wait to dive into some of your picks here. I read Lopate’s “The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt” via your link here and vibrated when I read this line: “Whether writing essays or just going about daily life, I am constantly second-guessing myself. My mind is filled with “yes, buts,” “so whats?” This is how I go through life; Lopate is my new BFF.

    Thank you for including my blog among these wonderful reads, Cheri. I too am a fan of Vela Magazine and Brevity, and I’m honored to be listed on the same page with them. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and I can’t wait to read about your new adventures.

  8. Some interesting recommendations there, thanks. If you like science writing with a quirky, humorous edge, then I’d recommend the blog The Last Word On Nothing, I subscribe to it and learn new stuff every day.
    Enjoy your holiday and have a great new year.

  9. Thank you Cheri for all the links on so many tech subjects, especially those that relate to SF, my home town. There is much about its current culture that is unsustainable. Sigh. I have not lived there for 35+ years. However, I have a brother with a home atop Stanyan St. and my oldest son lives in Oakland and works downtown in “The City.” So, I visit often.

    I’m enjoying your writing and photos.

    1. Thanks for your note. I realize there was another piece I read (in San Francisco Magazine of all places, which is normally too glossy/fluffy for me) that was interesting: Arise, Tenderloin.

      Focused on the Tenderloin area. I’d read it a while ago, but it was an interesting look into the neighborhood (if it can be helped, and if it *wants* to be helped). I’d felt it was a bit too optimistic in the end, but worth a read if you’re interested in the current landscape of the city.

      Happy holidays to you, and thanks so much for reading my blog.

  10. I wonder if you read something interesting about history in 2013. Did you read any book by Taleb (like “Black Swan”)?

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