What I’m reading. Really.

Willem de Kooning

I get asked so often to publish a list of what I’m reading. People tell me to make a discussion board. Make a Facebook group. Have an online book club. I don’t do that because I worry I’d feel pressure to be a reader of substance.

And I’m not. Here’s what I’m reading.

1. Tabloids
My reading list would start with the Enquirer. I have surveyed all the supermarket newsstand material and I think the Enquirer does the best reporting. I read Us Magazine for reports on the Royal Family because those of us in the know understand that Will and Kate’s baby means more than mere tabloid fodder.

But also tabloids are a diet mechanism, because if I need to feel better about my life and I don’t want to be fat later, the only thing left is reading about other people getting fat. Or doing some similarly ruinous thing to their life.

2. Children’s books.
Our house has basically nothing in it. This is what everyone says the first time they visit. And I’m constantly throwing stuff out. Except children’s books. It used to be that I could tell myself I’m saving them for my kids, but I can tell you with certainty that they are not into my collection of Maira Kalman books. We have picture books all over the house. They are first editions. I shouldn’t let the cat scratch them. I should put them in the garage. I should donate them to a library. (Actually, there’s a book in my stack about a woman who donates her stacks to a library.)

But I need them. People who were abused as kids often self-soothe by doing things they loved as children. I sucked my thumb until I was in my mid-twenties. So that I’m still reading picture books that I’ve read a million times actually feels high functioning.

3. Melissa’s links.
I have to work pretty hard to live on a farm without missing what’s happening in the world beyond. I used to read the New York Times and force myself to read stuff I don’t care about. It’s a great way to teach yourself to synthesize disparate ideas. But I can’t do that anymore because the Times won’t deliver to me. They won’t even deliver three days late.

So I had to rethink how I get a wide range of information and that’s when I started reading what Melissa sends like my life depends on it. There is no way to predict what will be there. Here’s a sampling:

Here’s a link to show you why Boston is racist and what the stereotypes are of other cities you love to hate—or just didn’t have the right information to hate.

Here’s a link about how the Abstract Expressionist art movement in the US was actually promoted by the CIA because the loose, emotional art seemed like an effective propaganda tool against the Soviet Union’s rigid Socialist Realism.

Here’s a link to a Myers-Briggs distribution chart that shows, among other things, why women like Melissa who are INTJs look completely out of step with the rest of the world but always send great links.

4. Food delivery web sites.
I’m in Seattle right now. By day I’m the mother of a cellist who cuts out on lessons to bike the Burke-Gillman trail. By night I’m an explorer of online food delivery sites. We don’t have food delivery web sites in rural Wisconsin. Actually, we don’t have food delivery.

Tonight I ordered from Eat 24. It was good. It was miraculous, really. That’s what the local Internet feels like when you live on a farm. I tried to convince my son o do Open Table  just so I could say I did it. Actually, it’s not that I had to convince my son to use an online reservation system. I had to convince him to commit to going out to dinner instead of going biking.

The new tourism: For people who live in rural America, traveling across the country city by city is not about visiting local attractions but rather about experiencing the local Internet.

5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
I am reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because my editor is. Well, he was. He suggested that we do a reading group but I couldn’t keep up. Although I think it’s not that I can’t keep up, it’s that I don’t do well with assigned reading. For example, I waited until my junior year of high school to read all the books assigned sophomore year. Just so I knew I was reading them by choice.

A week ago, I did the webinar Reach Your Goals by Blogging. Melissa and I did it together. She’s the moderator and I talk over her. She’s also the recorder of the session. Because in my mind I am building an online learning empire so I want to sell the courses as downloadable recordings.

But on the third night of the webinar it turned out that the recording thing didn’t record. So I was going to just redo that evening of the webinar, tirades and all. Though maybe different tirades because I do all the webinars largely unscripted so they are more authentic. But then we still had to figure out what to do because we couldn’t reproduce the Q&A session during the second half.

“We should have a special guest,” I said.

Melissa said, “Can you ask Seth Godin?”

She always says this. Like, Seth and I are roommates or something. “No. Of course Seth will not do that.”

“Why do you always yell at me when I suggest Seth? He did one with you. Why won’t he do another?”

“Because he hates me because I hate his stupid school reform ideas.

“You flatter yourself to think Seth has enough focus on you to hate you.”

“You flatter me to think Seth would even take my call.”

Melissa says, “I have to go.”

This is Melissa-talk for “I am practicing having good boundaries and you suck.”

I call her five seconds later and say, “Jay can do it. He’s the surprise guest.”

“Don’t say his name. It’s better if you always say, ‘my editor.’ It’s like the fake twitter accounts, if you reveal it, there’s no mystery.”

“There’s always mystery with me. Like, how will I sell downloads of webinars when I admit that they are unscripted and I don’t have the real recordings? It’s a mystery. What sort of person will click buy? Will Penelope’s family starve? Will Melissa get fired for all her technical errors?”


“Just kidding.”

We call Jay. Jay does the webinar with no notice, from a conference room at his day job, which is both brave and fun.

Jay sends me links as well. The difference between the links Jay shares and the ones Melissa shares is that Jay is intent on being useful. (“Maybe you can fit this link into a post about baby boomers.”) Whereas Melissa sends anything that’s fun and interesting.

But I share the best links from both of them. So really, we are all in a book club together. It’s just there are no books and there’s no club. It’s just my blog posts, peppered with links from those two and all of you. And maybe that’s why I feel like I am not a very good reader. Because the one at book club meetings who cleans the house and makes the sandwiches always gets away with not reading as much as the guests do.

56 replies
    • Cary
      Cary says:

      Wow seeing that infographic was a real eye opener. I suddenly understand why I gave to spend so much time understanding others point of view, because there’s so few people out there that think like me.

  1. zan
    zan says:

    (1) your posts seem uninspired of late. or maybe i’m uninspired of late. (2) i can’t stomach the anti-baby boomer crap anymore. please stop promoting it. knocking any generation reaps no reward. besides, the truth is, we’re all fucked, no matter what year we were born. (3) we’ll get the food — http://wellgetthefood.com — is a los angeles grocery delivery service i love, because i live car-free in downtown LA and our local grocery shopping choices are limited. we’ll get the food shops for me at trader joe’s, whole foods and bristol farms, only charges $8.95, and the delivery person (usually the owner) always brings a surprise free treat, like strawberry ice floes or fresh flowers. (4) one of my favorite books is a YA book written in 1959 titled “the pink dress.” it was written for teenagers, but i read it when i was 9, and i think it left a little scar on my psyche. i need to find it and read it again.

  2. Gary
    Gary says:

    Thanks for sharing; interesting list you have there. When I’m between semesters–as I am now–I read fun stuff, like Stephen King, Aristotle, PJ O’Roarke, Reader’s Digest (shrinks more each month), Ayn Rand, and a lot of psychology blogs and newsletters.

  3. Gary
    Gary says:

    Gah! How could I forget an old favorite, Florence King! Also Gary Larson and Bill Watterson. These are some historical favs, I suppose. I used to read the Enquirer and the Star, because my grandmother subscribed to them, and Playboy, because my grandfather subscribed. My brother has the Playboy collection in storage; Homer (what we called granddaddy) had every issue, from the first one in 1957 with Marylin Monroe, until his last subscription ran out in 1991–he died in 1990. Wow, P, you have stirred up a ton of memories. You’re my favorite read now, I love you, and the difference you’ve made in my ways of thinking since I discovered your blog. ☯

  4. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    If this helps, I read the NY Times on my iPad. One could also read it on their iPhone or on their Website.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Okay. Yeah. I know. I learned to read the New York Times by laying it on the floor on Sunday, spread out over my dorm room, getting black fingers with a friend. And I never stopped doing that when I grew up. It doesn’t work for me to take that experience online. I have to use the NYT in a totally different way online. It becomes one in a million sites I read links to rathe than being something I spend the day with.


  5. Ann Stanley
    Ann Stanley says:

    Penelope, I’m interested to know why don’t you like Seth Godin’s ideas about school reform? At least some of them seem to reflect your own. Is it because he doesn’t trust parents to educate their kids?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah, I think he shapes his arguments to justify not taking his own kids out of school because it scares him. He worries he’d have to be a teacher. Seth is famous for breaking rules in a big way – he did that with marketing with incredible results. He is limited in his ability to break rules the school arena so he ends up limiting his ability to have new ideas.


  6. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Oooh, the site Melissa linked to, “The Philisophical Boy” is excellent. I definitely added it to my Feedly, thank you!

  7. NY Times Reader
    NY Times Reader says:

    Subscribe to the NY Times digital version when it goes on “sale” & you don’t have to follow a bunch of links. The whole thing is right there on your tablet w/any other magazine subscriptions you have on a “bookcase” next to your books & you can choose which section you want to read–flip from section to section & send links to Melissa for a change.

    You can read it off-line, too, such as on an airplane that either doesn’t have free wifi or no wifi available.

    Subscribe directly from the NY Times’ site, though, when they are having a discounted price–not amazon or iTunes or other sites.

    I still sign up for their free alerts on several subjects that are sent directly to my email. For example, you might sign up for “homeschooling”, or “education”, etc.

    Oh, can someone tell me does the comma go inside the quote mark or outside, as I have it? It looks better outside the quote mark to me in a list like that, but that doesn’t make it right. Does Jay know the rule about that? I know what to do if the quote mark is at the end of a sentence & then where the punctuation goes, but not in a list like in the the paragraph above.

    Also, I’ve had out-of-state print editions of newspapers that can’t be delivered to me mailed to me (usually a week’s worth at a time). It is expensive, but you could check into that & then there is always this useful place called a “library.”

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I agree with your assessment of The National Enquirer. Gossip reporting in my estimation is more scrutinized by readers due to the nature of the type of news being reported and it’s more susceptible to litigation. The legacy media could learn a few things from them. Also there’s a guy named Mike Walker (columnist at the National Enquirer) who comes on the Andy Dean radio talk show on a regular basis. If you do an Internet search, you’ll find free podcasts of him and Andy talking about the latest celebrity and political gossip. Also Mike Walker is on Twitter at IMwalkergossip. Also People magazine is (or at least was) a very good tabloid. My late Mom had a subscription so I had access to the magazine. And my sister-in-law always looked forward to making off with them (not really but it sounds good because they were so highly valued) – ones that were only just a few short weeks “old”.

  9. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    It takes me all week to read the Sunday NY Times. And I have a ginormous stack of New Yorkers and books to get through, always. Even though I have a Masters in English literature I never feel well-read, maybe because when I drive my little brother’s friend across town he lists all the books he is going to be reading during his first year of college, and I haven’t even heard of any of them. Then he starts talking about learning Chinese at camp over the summer.

    I say, “Well, the guy I’m dating is Chinese.”

    Then I get a feeling of satisfaction when he enthusiastically responds, “Cool!”

  10. Ann Marie
    Ann Marie says:

    Try harder to listen to Melissa, when you cut her off you surely hurt her feelings and deny yourself her wise guidance.

  11. NY Times Reader
    NY Times Reader says:

    Thank goodness my local little rural library has a dictionary so I could look up “intelligentsia.”

    However, you are incorrect as our little Indiana rural library provides the NY Times to the corn & soybean growers for their reading pleasure.

    Have you not heard of “Friends of the Library”? It is a very exclusive group to join ($15.00/year here), but you don’t need to be a member to reap the benefits as the “Friends” provide the NY Times, as well as many other periodicals that are not “local.”

    They also sponsor several book groups & provide the books free of charge to all people who want to read the book & join in the discussion–even large print or audio for the blind. Then what I really love is that at the end of the meeting you can just return the book so no need to purchase the book to be a part of the book group or you can purchase it (brand new copy the “Friends” have provided) for only $5.00 (even a hard-copy book).

    “Friends of the Library” has been an organization at every library in towns I’ve in throughout the U.S.A., including Alaska, so I’d check to see if your library has one established; then join & suggest getting the NY Times for your patrons.

    If no “Friends” group exists at your library, I’m sure the librarians can start the process of forming one easily.

    I’ve found the rural libraries are very into providing their patrons w/as many resources as they can, even if they need to borrow from other libraries or special order.

    Be a part of the solution, if you so desperately need ink stains.

    • rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel
      rebecca@midcenturymodernremodel says:

      My mom was a reference librarian @ the Santa Ana Main Library in CA. This was before Google (obviously). And she was born and raised in Indiana (Purdue graduate). I will have to double check but I think she will feel you are just the slightest bit touchy.

      • Touchy in Indiana
        Touchy in Indiana says:

        By all means, have your mother contact the Westfield, IN library or Noblesville, Carmel, etc.

        Small rural towns w/excellent library services…

        Just trying to be informative about what actually is available at our humble local libraries.

  12. Chris
    Chris says:

    Hey, Penelope, there was an Antiques Roadshow episode just today, beginning with the value of children’s books. There is a whole town in Great Britain with a gazillion bookstores, dealing in old books. Children’s books–at a premium. (Cannot remember the name of the town, sorry.) If you want you could find out about this town in England and go and visit it. Or contact them from here.

  13. Sharon Teitelbaum
    Sharon Teitelbaum says:

    Speaking of interesting links, here’s one to this week’s NYTimes piece,The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/magazine/the-opt-out-generation-wants-back-in.html?ref=magazine&_r=0. w
    I imagine you would have some very interesting thoughts about this. I hope you’ll share them in a post some time.

    I loved the webinar you hosted last week and said so on FB; one of my FB friends asked me if I thought she would get value from it. I said yes. So that’s one answer to your question in this post about who will download the seminar.

  14. AJ
    AJ says:

    Welcome to the neighborhood! I live in Queen Anne, the neighborhood where you are with your son. I thought I might’ve seen your cohort the other day by the university!

    Make sure to check out Kerry Park. You can also take your son to Menchies on Queen Anne Avenue.

  15. Andalee
    Andalee says:

    As a fat person, I am a little offended by your fat-phobic comments under #1. I have unsubscribed from the newsletter because of it. You may have many more fat readers here who are just looking for some advice mixed in with entertainment and the last thing we need is more stigmatization and fat-phobia, especially when those statements provide absolutely no substantive content to the article. I hope you will be more sensitive to people of size in subsequent posts. There are people of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities who live and thrive in this world and getting fat is not the end of the world.

    • Colleen
      Colleen says:

      Thank you so much Andalee. I was very put off by that derogatory remark as well and have also unsubscribed. Thank you for standing up against size bullying.

      • P is very fat & looks obsessed
        P is very fat & looks obsessed says:

        It seems to stem from her being abused as a child, but you would think she’d get some help to get over her obsession w/looks. She seems to have internalized the incorrect notion that a woman’s worth is largely due to her looks & sexual appeal.

        P will have a very hard time figuring out her value now that she is aging & is no longer as sexually desirable.

        She is offensive & wrong & I wish she would get help before she unconsciously or even consciously teaches her sons a woman’s worth is primarily her looks & sexual appeal as then her sons will treat their wives/lovers/mates accordingly (male or female really–it is just as terrible to base a person’s worth on such superficial values).

        My sister-in-law was anorectic & developed lung cancer (very advanced stage) & it was so difficult for her to follow doc’s instructions to drink stuff like Ensure as she was so malnourished she couldn’t be treated as aggressively as docs wanted to (chemo & radiation simultaneously).

        Good news is that the family members were able to convince her life w/her belt buckled at a looser hole was preferable to death.

        She has recovered from lung cancer (miraculously stage 3 as she couldn’t withstand surgery; the other lung couldn’t support her). BUT she still struggles w/equating fat w/all things bad & evil & dirty & out-of-control & UGLY.

        But she is trying to change her cognitive distortions about weight/body. I wish P would, too. She has a lot of problems that are clearly evident to the readers.

        There are so many more important aspects about a person that are more meaningful.

        • mh
          mh says:

          I think Penelope’s still sexy. Have you seen the video (reality tv trailer) of her running around the farm in those boots? Mamacita.

          I’m prejudiced against people who don’t understand compound interest. I’m also prejudiced against people who don’t like chocolate, prefer cats to dogs, or watch tv. I’m not proud of it, but I’m prejudiced against male librarians.

          At least Penelope says it up front — she is trying to avoid falling into the fat pit. Where’s the harm?

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Penelope has always been fat phobic. And as a fat person, that certainly pisses me off, however, I find a lot of value in what she says and the way her brain works.

      And while I don’t agree with everything she says, I simply filter out what I think is crazy and what I think isn’t. And one of her most redeeming qualities is that she’s authentic and brutally honest – even to the point of making herself look bad. She knows she’s got issues and at least she’s honest about it and doesn’t pretend to be perfect.

      But again, I don’t condone her ridiculous fat phobic statements and I wish she’d stop. But her continuing to do so won’t stop me from reading. Anyway, that’s all just IMHO.

  16. Jana
    Jana says:

    I just read The Defining Decade by Meg Jay-all about what you should be doing in your 20’s-fascinating read. And if you don’t like reading-you can get an overview from her Ted talk.

  17. Liz
    Liz says:

    When I lived at home, my mom bought my little brother and I the same book so we could read it together, thinking it would get my brother to read a book. My little brother asked my older brother if he wanted to join his book club. My older brother asked, who’s in this book club. My little brother was like “Me and Liz”. I had no idea I was in a book club. My older brother didn’t join our club and we never read the book. It was a great club and I love your post because it reminds me of this story and how great book clubs can be.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh, well, they are not on my list, but when someone sends me a link from reddit, especially the ask-me-anyhing threads, I always click right away. They are Internet candy.


      • Priscilla Wood
        Priscilla Wood says:

        By the way I did your seminar and it was fantastic. Many times we need the input of a complete stranger to open our eyes and point to the direction to take. Thank you for your reply.

  18. Dentist in Fleet
    Dentist in Fleet says:

    i am not getting this article. the content which provided in the article are ok understandable how you link this article with that image….it quite….difficult to compare this thing i don’t know about you but as per me its not at all inter-related to each other.

  19. James
    James says:

    I’d buy a NYT subscription and priority mail it to you each weekday for 3 months ($1044.60 value) in trade for getting my crazy and fun project funded. Interested? :)

  20. Joseph Dewey
    Joseph Dewey says:

    Awesome post! I’m going to start checking out Melissa’s links, and buy some Enquirers.

    By the way, there’s actually nothing funny about threatening to fire people, and there’s no literary value with writing about it. People always laugh when their boss jokes about it, though, so it makes it seem like it’s funny even though it’s not. It’s a horrible downward cycle.

  21. Laura
    Laura says:

    Can you please give me a little more insight into the thumb sucking? My daughter is 10 and still sucks her thumb. She has a very lovely childhood (of course I think this since I spend my life facilitating it :) ). Is there anything I can get her to do to stop? How did you stop in your 20’s? Did it mess up your teeth?

  22. mh
    mh says:

    No book clubs for me. There might be other people there. (GRIN)

    Seriously, reading is personal, I enjoy material most people wouldn’t, and I avoid groups. Why join a book club? I’ll only alienate more nice people.

    Better to smile and say no, thanks.

  23. garrett
    garrett says:

    I used to be a big fan of food delivery sites. Now i’ve been going out much more. It is helpful for me when i’m overworked to go out and eat a nice meal.

  24. Erin
    Erin says:

    I use your blog as a part of my “book club” so keep the links coming!! Though parts of your blog don’t apply to me, I am enriched by reading it, and love following links!!

  25. Salomon
    Salomon says:

    can someone tell me does the comma go inside the quote mark or outside, as I have it? It looks better outside the quote mark to me in a list like that, but that doesn’t make it right

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