As my wife and I were starting to think about what to pack for our trip to the Outer Banks earlier this summer, the subject of reading material arose. I typically prefer page-turners at the beach, so I’d already set aside Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and I knew I’d also appreciate the less-distracted hours I’d need to finish Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. (A sadder novel I have not read in quite some time.) What I really wanted to do, however, was eat into the stack of unread New Yorker issues heaped on our living room table. I just didn’t know how.
I mean, if you’ve ever had the experience of falling three months behind, you understand: each issue requires deep engagement, and a neglected stack can begin to feel like a lifetime commitment. The New Yorker is not, to be sure, a periodical to be taken lightly. The unread stack felt like too much pressure, I told my wife… not only for the beach, but for anywhere.
Naturally, my wife came to my rescue (as she has done in so many other ways). You want to know what this amazing woman did? Having already read every issue herself, she went through them again, putting sticky notes on the articles she knew I’d want to read (and creating a code so that I’d know which articles would appeal to which of my major interest areas — theater, science, politics, and so on). Yes, she curated the whole collection for me, reducing at least 15 full issues to about three and a half issues’ worth of Gwydion-must-read writing. It was, if you’ll pardon a bit of praise, a tremendous and generous act of love… and for the record, she was inerrant in her assessments. Every single article she thought I’d want to read, I did, in fact, very much enjoy.
It is also, I’m beginning to think, exactly the sort of act we are in the process of losing. I can’t think of anyone who curates anything for me, other than my wife. While I might rely on theater critics, for example, to tell me what plays I might see, I find them fairly inconsistent on that front; I agree with some of them some of the time, but none of them all of the time. While I enjoy the Globe’s coverage of the Boston Celtics, I also feel the need to go to Celticsblog.com for additional reportage; neither source is exhaustive. Nobody’s book reviews are of any help whatsoever, because my taste in fiction is sort of flaky. Even when my friends tell me they like something, there’s still a strong possibility that I won’t; I can’t connect with Mad Men the way everyone else seems to, for example. So it falls upon me to curate my own consumption of culture.
To some extent, this is a good thing. It makes me more responsible to my own education and enlightenment and entertainment. But the immense relief of being able to trust my wife’s assessment about so much writing is hard for me to ignore. I wish like hell there were someone out there to do this for me all the time. I’d feel like I was getting exactly what I needed and wanted and nothing more… or less.
As it is, I always feel like I’m missing something, and I’m always overwhelmed by the fact that there’s more culture to interact with than I can possibly sift through in a life time. And it’s really not a very good feeling at all.