We ask writers what they read online.
A couple of years ago one of my New Year’s resolutions was, ‘spend less time online, especially in the evenings.’ I think I’ve succeeded—excusing myself from Facebook certainly helped—although my retinas still absorb plenty of Web content. If you’re a compulsive tab-opener like me, by the end of the day there’s often a compendium of completely disjunctive Web detritus that you thought about completing but never did: a thinkpiece on literary translation, an online shopping cart with something you thought about buying but won’t, a truly bad filed-just-before-the-deadline political report from the eve of the Iowa caucuses constructed halfheartedly around a random poll number (I’m from the US). But amid all the noise, I have my Web havens.
One of them is The Public Domain Review, an online magazine dedicated to exploring the ‘vast commons of out-of-copyright material that everyone is free to enjoy, share and build upon without restriction.’ Like that aunt who has a knack for finding treasures in yard sales, PDR zeroes in on wonderful material that I never would have stumbled across myself like early 20th-c. photographs of snowflakes taken by a Vermont farmer who captured them with homemade bellows camera-and-microscope contraptions and 19th-c. British prints of air pollution. The essays are smart, brief, and always accompanied by fantastic illustrations. There are also posts that simply feature public-domain visual material, such as this one showing colourised stereographs depicting Japanese army camp life during the Russo-Japanese War.
Another favourite Web stop of mine is The Cloisters Museum’s In Season blog, dedicated to the museum’s medieval garden. The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum located in northern Manhattan and houses a spectacular collection of medieval art. The museum itself is constructed of medieval architectural elements brought over from Europe. As a kid, I went there often and especially loved playing in the garden that felt like its own magical world with fragrant herbs and geometrically pruned boxwood. The blog is a delightful mixture of garden updates, features of various objects in the collection (often when there’s new research or conservation to report), and exhibition updates. Currently, there’s one on about medieval playing cards, which I wish I could visit. While I miss the garden itself and occasionally, the seasonal rhythms of the Northern Hemisphere, at least I can take a brief desk vacation over there. I recommend it to everyone.
This is switching gears a bit, but Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast is one of the most important places online for me (full disclosure: I was once a guest on the podcast). Belabored focuses on labour news; it’s based in the US but has an international perspective. It is amazing to me how few news outlets have dedicated labour journalists and how much labour issues are under-covered, especially considering that, as politics professor Adolph Reed has noted, working for a living or being expected to work is one of the most broadly shared human experiences. Because our wellbeing depends on work, we should all be concerned and informed about changing labour conditions, but there aren’t many places where one can find good, incisive information. Sarah Jaffe and Michelle Chen, two terrific labour journalists with deep reserves of labour history knowledge, host the show. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, but I also like going to the website because there the hosts post all variety of supplemental reading and extra material.