The Lost Art of Browsing

Searching for information on the Internet has brought data to our fingertips, but it doesn’t always provide answers. It’s also made us a little lazy. Google searching means our inquisitiveness is filtered through an algorithm, designed to push answers at us whether that’s what we’re asking or not. Our lives are surrounded by forms of entertainment designed “For you,” yet curated content doesn’t satisfy our wanderlust either. Swiping or scanning through social media doesn’t replace the glory of a meandering conversation with a friend over lunch in the shade on a hot day. And nothing replaces the stacks.

A study cage, or carrel, is pictured in the Memorial Library north stacks on Dec. 28, 2021 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo by Bryce Richter / University of Wisconsin–Madison)

When I was a kid, my library protocol was a systematic wander. Sometimes I started with the As or with a recommended book, but sometimes I started in the middle just letting my eye roam over titles with intrigue, interesting fonts, and curious covers. My one rule was I liked to get ten books; my one irritation was that you had to write out slips in groups of three, which vexed me because there was one left over. (But I never picked out nine or twelve.) I was ever so happy when the slips went away.

When I was an undergraduate, I figured out a way to get special permission to go into the stacks at Berkeley’s Doe Library, one of the largest libraries in the world. Normally, only the graduate students had access. In their lone carrels, the exuded a haunted yearning that required quiet, desperate thinking, not to mix with the mass of noisy, playful undergraduate puppies bounding about in Moffitt Library. I would study up in the stacks, too, but I liked to pull random books of the shelves to “steal moments,” perusing books unrelated to what I had to study. (How do English majors avoid studying? they read something else…)

Consider this, then a love letter to pulling random books of the shelf, a paean to browsing, to wandering through places where information is stored and letting curiosity take over. For any kind of search, changing the paradigm can yield unexpected fruit.

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Writers, Find Your People!

Logo courtesy of GCLS.

I just got back from a writer’s conference, and boy is my hand cramped! (*rim shot*)

This was the annual GCLS convention, the first in-person in three years, so it was a frenzy of panels, master classes, meet-and-greets, plenary sessions, jigsaw puzzles, awards, and delirious terpsichore. Oh, yeah, I said terpsichore. Because I know my way around a dictionary and a thesaurus. Although there’s also a thing I learned which is called an Emotional Thesaurus. Writing!

My mind is full of memories, ideas, and to-do lists about how to elevate my craft, and we’re about to go to a museum with DINOSAURS … but let me quickly try to encapsulate all this creative energy.

GCLS Panel on “Writing Tools of the Trade,” photo by Karin Kallmaker.

GCLS: A Conference of One’s Own

This conference was Writers, readers, editors, publishers, librarians, and all manner of people who enjoy a good story. The vast majority of these folks write women-loving-women fiction. Now, that’s not my particular jam, but so what? I learned a ton!

There was a phenomenal master class on writing from memory, taught by Sheree L. Greer, worth the price of admission on its own. But I also got intelligent hints about using social media like Tik-Tok for people my age (i.e. over 25). World-building, narrative arcs, characterization: those apply to history writing, too. Tax planning for the self-employed because I might eventually sell more than two books.

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The Wild Ride of Writing Every Day

They even decorated their plates! (Bargello museum) Photo by kajmeister.

Twenty-six days, 24,483 words, 26 posts: art, music, mathematics (?!?), drama, popes, plagues, giant horse statues that don’t get built.

Looking back over the last 26 days, I see posts that I don’t even remember writing. There are at least two posts that nobody read, not because they’re bad, but sometimes these slip between the cracks. But the benefit–and curse–of the A to Z process is that you have to write every day (only four breaks) and you have to cover all the letters.

Attach Seat to Chair, remember?

The discipline to write every day is intense. Actually, let me rephrase that to distinguish this from twitzing and ingramming and all that other stuff, which I don’t do. The discipline to write at least 500, semi-lucid words, in paragraph form with complete sentences and thoughts about a topic is intense. It requires planning and forethought, determination and a sense of urgency.

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