Tech is playing havoc with my reading.

Lately, I’ve been having trouble focusing. I’m restless and nervous all the time. I’m constantly playing with my phone – jumping from app to app; checking my Gmail; posting on Twitter; should I be posting on Litsy? check Litsy; did my table sell on Letgo? check Letgo; new episodes of my favorite podcast? download; listen to podcast; put phone down. Jump on internet or turn on the television. Anything I want to stream on Amazon Prime/Netflix/Hulu? Watch trailers. No. Turn off the television. Pick up a book. Read. Think of something to Google. Maybe I should be writing? Put down book, pick up phone. Open game. Play game until out of lives. Begin cycling through apps again.

Tech is playing havoc with my reading.

I’ve become obsessed with de-cluttering my house. The truth is that my head is crammed full of information/to-do’s/desires/ideas/regrets. Like a Japanese Zen garden (resist Googling Japanese Zen Garden – success) that’s littered with trash, I need to devise a slow and purposeful way to rake the sand clean again.

My phone is trying to addict me. Not really the phone – just like not opioids, not meth, not nicotine, not caffeine. Drugs are not viruses. They do not consciously recognize that they benefit from my addiction. Companies recognize the benefits. It is in Google’s/Facebook’s/Twitter’s/Amazon’s/Instagram’s/YouTube’s best interest if I don’t disconnect from my screen. There have been articles and studies (resist Googling synonyms for “built-in” – success) explaining that tech companies build-in features to make their applications addictive, complete with psychological triggers and rewards in the form of likes, emojis, hearts, hearts that sparkle and pop (resist Googling articles and studies – fail) which make us feel seen. Everyone wants to be seen.

I like Star Trek’s version of the future. I bought a Google Home Hub because it came with two free minis. I already own a mini. Our house is small. A friend who works for a big tech company I’ve already mentioned doesn’t own any home devices. His social media footprint is small. He’s surprisingly analog outside of work. Should I be paying attention to this? Does he know something I don’t? The Matrix wasn’t intended as metaphor and yet, metaphorically, I can’t help thinking we’ve all voluntarily connected ourselves to the matrix. The film (resist Googling for “the matrix film” – fail), released in 1999, is no longer a convincing depiction of the future. The tech has aged badly.

Fortunately, my addiction isn’t wreaking havoc on or disrupting my relationships, other than my perception of them (FOMO). But if it’s interfering with my reading life, an activity that brings me happiness, can I still say tech has improved my life? (Google “breaking tech addiction”. Resist tinfoil hat paranoia – fail. Google “quit smoking”. Click on Substitute “screens” for “cigarettes”).

  • Make a Plan – Set limits in order to wean yourself off screens. This is something Cal Newport talks about in Deep Work (download audiobook from Rather than schedule time off – the oft-cited tech hiatus – designate your time on. Beginner goal: keep screen surfing time to ninety minutes per day. Track in journal.
  • Stay Busy – Find meaningful projects to replace screen time. Plan things to do: books you want to read, write more, visit friends, go to the gym, work in the garden, take the dog for a walk. Gretchen Rubin recommends scheduling phone dates with long distance friends on her Happier podcast. I’ve tried and find it a satisfying alternative to Facebook for keeping in touch.
  • Avoid Triggers – Limit impetuous searches. Write down the things you want to search and go back during designated screen time. Delete games. Gradually delete social media sites, starting with the ones you rarely use. Set Forest phone app (resist Googling “phone apps to keep you off screen” – success) for maximum minutes to discourage picking up phone. Use internet blocks when writing. Avoid SNL videos on YouTube. 
  • Stay Positive – Limit Instagram & Twitter use. Identify the kinds of online activity that makes you sad or nervous. If you feel disconnected, find offline ways to connect (yoga class, browse a book store, go to the park).
  • Ask for Help – Ask your partner to hold your phone for blocks of time. Ask close friends and family members to call if they need to reach you instead of texting. Go somewhere. Be around other people. And, (resist cliche – fail) recognize that other people will probably be staring at screens of their own.

The Reader’s Toolbox

Clockwise from top right corner – a Circa Jotlet, Field Notes Byline Limited Edition, generic 5-1/2″ x 8″ softcover journal, Field Notes Sweet Tooth Limited Edition, Levenger business card magnifier, variety of wood pencils (including highlighter pencils), 2 pencil sharpeners, eraser, 3 x 5 Levenger index cards, pencil case, Book Darts, Gimble (hands free reading tool).


When I was in art school I discovered a deep love for the materials out of which art is made: the brushes, the differences in brands of paint pigments, pens and pencils and the cases made to store them.  Hours would go by at Pearl Paint on Canal Street spent looking at different types of paper. This passion for tools has crossed over into my reading life and I’ve accumulated a bunch of little accessories, completely unnecessary, which somehow make reading even more fun. My husband gave me a book bag last Christmas and I’ve taken to carrying it everywhere.  Of course there’s always at least one book (or three) tucked inside, but there are lots of other things too.  Below is a list of my reader/reviewer toolkit –

  • An assortment of notebooks. Of course you probably only need one but, as a friend once said to me, if you’re going in then go in big. I usually have at least two Field Notes notebooks on me at all times.  I like them because 1. – the small, booklet held together by three simple staples and 2. – I’m a bit of a label whore. The Byline Limited Edition is fantastic. It’s a departure from their standard notebook format and was designed with the help of John Dickerson of Face the Nation. I also keep a small Circa Jotlet in the side pocket of my bag. Both it and the Byline are bound at the top, so they flip open and can be held in one hand. It makes it easier to take notes reporter style. I tend to jot down a lot of notes during the day, mostly things I hear or thoughts I might have for a future post. I keep a larger, softcover journal for longer sections of writing, the drafts which will be eventually be incorporated into reviews. All of the notebooks I’m currently using are softcover. I’m less precious about using them and if they get roughed up or filled with scribbles it doesn’t bother me. Whereas there’s something about a hardcover journal that feels like everything recorded in it is for Posterity.
  • Knickknacks
    Clockwise from top left: Book Darts, Gimble (hands-free book opener), KUM Masterpiece Sharpener, M+B Double Hole Brass Sharpener, Staedtler Black Rubber Eraser
    Wood pencils, a handheld eraser & (2) sharpeners. Yes, completely analog. Eventually I hack it out on the Chromebook, but all my initial thoughts and early drafts are put down in longhand using old-school wooden pencils. The benefit of writing by hand is that it forces you to slow down to choose your words and structure your sentences. I also stop more frequently to read over what I’ve written.  To this end I have accumulated a collection of several dozen pencils. Japanese are my favorites. I like softer leads, which generally means shorter point retention, so I’ve also invested in two quality metal hand sharpeners. The KUM Masterpiece Longpoint is a German-made sharpener. It’s a two-blade system, which means you sharpen your pencil in part 1 to extend the lead, and part 2 to shape it into a point that could be used to shank someone. I keep a second, brass sharpener for the fatter, less lethal highlighter pencils that don’t fit into the Masterpiece (no bleeding through the page like markers). Add a colored pencil for editing drafts and at least one rubber eraser and my pencil case is complete. The Erasable Podcast and CW Pencil in NYC have been invaluable resources for putting it together.
  • 3×5 notecards. Ever since reading that Nabokov used index cards to draft his novels I’ve been trying to find a way to incorporate them into my writing routine. The best use I’ve found for them is as bookmarks.  I also jot notes on them, usually nothing more exciting than quotes and page numbers. The Levenger cards are nice because of the vertical format, but pricey. Mine were a gift and I probably won’t replace them once they’re gone.
  • A magnifier. I haven’t needed one yet – but it seems like a good thing to have.  Another gift.
  • Magnifier2
    Magnifying Card
    Book Darts.  I am a Book Dart evangelist. These smooth, sexy, pointed metal clips that slide onto the edge of a page are fantastic for marking passages & quotes you want to reference later. IMHO the darts are vastly superior, and more environmentally friendly, than post-it-notes (which fold and become ragged over time). I cannot live without them.
  • Something to keep the pages of my book open. For those times when you need a page open and your hands free, like when you’re typing out a passage from a book.  The Gimble, which is what I use, isn’t aesthetically pleasing but it gets the job done for a fraction of the price of one of those fancy leather book weights. Plus it fits into my pencil case!

That’s it! Well… except for a confession: I’ve written this post for purely selfish reasons. As I was thinking about my own book bag I couldn’t help wondering if I’m the only one.  I am genuinely curious….do YOU have a favorite bookmark, or write on a vintage typewriter (or have a vintage typewriter sound app for your laptop)?  Do you collect fountain pens? write on stacks of yellow legal pads? put notes in the margins of your books? Please share what is or isn’t in your reading toolbox in the comments.

A Quick Post On A Day Spent Reading, Fake Fireplaces & Sergio Pitol

I’ve set aside today to read.  My usual routine for days like this is to make prodigious amounts of tea, put the “fireplace” video on the television and pretend I’m stranded in a Scottish Inn. The video operates under the same concept as the Yule Log.  Which, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is played during the holidays on public television – transforming television screens across America into burning fireplaces. Classical music plays as the logs burn down, though why they (by they I am of course referring to the visionaries who recognized the market demand a video of burning logs fills) can’t just use the crackling sounds of an actual fire is beyond me. The particular video I have access to also includes artistic close-ups of portions of the fire, further destroying the illusion of your-tv-as-fireplace.  We can only assume this (along with the music) is a balm to the filmmaker’s artistic integrity, or perhaps a way to pacify the Gas Fireplace Manufacturers of America who might view televised fireplaces as a competing market.

As usual there’s a stack of books I want to get to.  At the moment my focus is on finishing Sergio Pitol’s The Art of Flight. He has a remarkable authorial voice – and his personality shines through this and the first book of his Trilogy of Memory: The Journey. What I wanted to talk about, though, is the wonderful supplemental material Deep Vellum included with each book.  Two Introductions  – written by Enrique Vila-Matas (for The Art of Flight) & Álvaro Enrigue (for The Journey).  Álvaro Enrigue’s is your standard overview: explaining the author’s work and its importance in an essay called Sergio Pitol, Russian Boy.  Vila-Matas’ introduction is a bit more personal. He draws a wonderful portrait of Sergio Pitol in his own, very brief, essay entitled Pitol in the Rain.  The two men (Vila-Matas & Pitol) are friends; and Vila-Matas mentions the little details, the small quirks of personality, which true friends treasure. Thanks to Vila-Matas we discover that Sergio Pitol is a bit of a hypochondriac and is continuously losing (and recovering) his eyeglasses.

‘I remember the day because there was a pounding rain and Sergio was constantly losing his glasses; the latter was not at all unusual, his penchant for losing and then finding his glasses being legendary. That day he lost them several times, in various bookstores and cafes, as if that were the perfect antidote for not losing his umbrella. I recalled the day that Juan Villoro had found in Pitol’s tendency to lose his glasses a clue to illuminating new aspects of his poetics:  “Sergio writes in that hazy region of someone who loses his eyeglasses on purpose; he pretends that his originality is an attribute of his bad eyesight…”

Pitol in the Rain is only a few pages long, but every word is full of affection and friendship.  Readers are left in no doubt that Pitol is a man much loved by those fortunate enough to know him personally.

How often can biographies, let alone introductions and afterwards, make that claim? I often find that the more I learn about an author the more disillusioned I become.  But, from what I’ve read so far – The Journey in its entirety and a good portion of The Art of Flight – Pitol is far from a bad boy or glamorous member of the Literati.  Though he seems to have come in contact, and frequently developed lasting relationships, with some of the most important writers of the times his writing is amazingly scandal and gossip free.  His anecdotes are amusing because he finds them amusing, and always good-naturedly so. I get the feeling the members of the Algonquin Round Table would find him a bore and he would feel the same of them.  He lacks their sting, yet is as charming as any one of them could wish to be.

George Henson’s translation captures the author’s lightness and guileless enthusiasm for life and literature. He’s also done an admirable job of keeping the strand of Pitol’s prose from becoming tangled in the author’s convoluted labyrinth of memory. Henson, too, seems to have succumbed to Sergio’s charm despite their having never met.  In the translator’s note Henson describes the pressure of translating without an author’s collaboration.  Particularly when the author is a much celebrated translator, himself.   He explains the reason for the absence of authorial input (which I won’t go into) and ends the paragraph with an email he received from Pitol (which I will) – “Your interest in my work fills me with happiness and gratitude. I would love nothing more than to see my Trilogy of Memory translated into English, a language I adore and in which none of my books exist.”

I found those two sentences incredibly touching, – particularly the words happiness, gratitude and adore. The more I read the more it becomes apparent that Pitol possessed a rare and self-effacing intelligence. Those three words are representative of the author, or at least how I’ve come to think of him through the his books. Many things seem to have filled Sergio Pitol with adoration, happiness and gratitude.  We can all be grateful that he took the time to write some of those things down. – Building a Global Reading Community

Gimble TravelerI’ve never been one to advertise on my blog.* Well, anything other than books. But when Gone Reading reached out to me I did a little research and liked what I saw. sells “Brilliant Products for the Reading Lifestyle”.   The site carries a wide variety of reading accessories, as well as decorative & novelty items.  100% of their after tax profit goes to charities like READ Global & Ethiopia Reads – literacy programs that build libraries, community centers and work to put books in the hands of people – young & old – around the world.  What kind of practical difference can increased literacy rates make in developing countries?  Several reports have been released by agencies like Unesco, The National Endowment for the Arts and The National Literacy Trust with findings such as: increased literacy rates can contribute to GDP growth.  In individuals it can be linked to improved quality of life, better job performance and more community participation. Literacy opens doors and creates opportunities.

Which was enough to convince me to peruse the site and pick-out a few items that I thought my readers might like. Bookmark Pad

I’m a gadget girl.  I love stuff that does stuff: bags with compartments; Swiss Army pocket knives; e-readers; I don’t discriminate between high or low tech – good design is good design. And my new Gimble Traveler is good design.  I hate trying to keep a book open while I’m typing up a review. There are leather book weights but they costs a fortune and lay on top of the page, obscuring the text.  The Gimble, though, costs under thirteen dollars and works like a charm.  The sturdy plastic arms obscure only a small portion of the page, it works with paperbacks or hardcovers, and adjusts to fit different sized books.  The Gimble isn’t very pretty, but it does comes in different colors. And, most important, it works.

Another item that I knew I could use was a new booklight.  Most clip on book lights, in my experience, are too big. They’re bulky and heavy and  can  damage the pages. The Really Tiny Book Light is a big hit.  It gives off a bright, direct light.  Attaches to the book without leaving marks.  And TRTBL is greats for traveling – I used it on the late bus back from NYC and can attest that it only lights up the page. Not the person sleeping in the seat next to you.  I’m ordering some for stocking stuffers in December. Tiny Book Light 2

Next: The Oh-So-Handy Bookmark Pad. Who doesn’t need more bookmarks?  25 bookmarks come per pad, printed on a heavy stock paper. The quality is unexpectedly good.  If you like writing notes on stuff (I don’t) they’re also lined with fields where you can fill in the title, author, date started & finished of the book you’re reading.

I left my favorite for last. The Book Rest Lamp by Suck UK.  A gorgeous design.  I bought mine a few years ago and it  sits in my living room: looking sharp and holding my place in style.

So whether your looking for a silly novelty gift; something for yourself (the My Bibliofile book journal has a Reading Tree/flow chart you can use to track your reading); or a gift that’s a little more special (the Library Collection author themed scented candles and fragrance diffusers  scream host/hostess gift) – you’ll find it at  And every one of your purchases builds good karma by helping to fund programs like this:


*Just a reminder – this blog is completely non-profit.  No paid advertisements will ever appear on BookSexy Review (the notable exception being the videos WordPress sometimes puts at the end of my posts. Over which I have limited control & for which I receive no money).