What Are We Reading? Tips for Finding the Good Stuff


So Much to Read, So Little Time. Sharing Our Favorites and Shortcuts.


(1) This is the first in our new, two posts per week format. I hope you find this a good fit.

(2) Many of you took up the email to share Agents of Reason with friends. Thanks!

(3) Some of you reading this are new readers, thanks to the aforementioned emails. Welcome aboard! We are glad to have you with us and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Now on to today’s topic:

Thinking About Reading

Last summer, while taking a course on critical thinking I had an epiphany. I was thinking about the fact that from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance, we lost 1,000 years of knowledge and progress. “We” means mostly the West, but not exclusively. (A critical thinking course is highly recommended, by the way. Clears the cobwebs).

As it turns out, Muslim scholars in Spain retained a surprising amount from the Greeks and the Romans. But that was unknown to the rest of the world for most of this dark period. Imagine where we would be today if we had an extra thousand years of knowledge behind us. So much time and energy lost in restarting civilization.

Then it occurred to me that we have almost the reverse problem today, with the same result of feeling lost. We have so much information, in so many formats and outlets, that we often feel we are drowning in it. Sorting through it all, not to mention trying to actually read and absorb it, seems impossible.

When I left my last regular job, I thought to myself, “At last, time to read it all.” That must have been the innocence of youth. Yes, I had more time, but with it I found ever more outlets. What to do? Are we doomed to forever drown in data?

Fortunately, no, I don’t think so. It is impossible to read through all that is available, true. But I have settled in on a handful of tools and resources that have made a real difference for me. Allow me to share them with you and to ask what you are reading. I will provide links to my list at the end of this post.

Starting with the Old School

I very much value great newspapers and the best magazines. Both are products of an earlier age. Newspapers struggle to find their place and financial footing in the digital age. But we know that great journalism is essential to democracy. The great papers are where this high standard is most often met.

So, I subscribe to three newspapers (two electronic only, one both print and electronic). I could get all the news I need out of only one, but for the breadth and depth of analysis needed, I want all three. This lets me underwrite an essential source of information and truth in society. If you think government, business, or others might fudge from time to time on telling you the truth, you know we need professional investigative journalism.  Subscriptions are money well invested.

I am a daily reader of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Both do superb journalism. Both organize information in any combinations of newsletters, emails, etc. that you want.

And I subscribe to my local newspaper. It is a struggling enterprise at times, but it does a darn good job of checking the pulse of my community. It has done some fine investigative work on a shoe string budget in the time I have been reading it. The local paper is too small and too expensive – and I don’t care. We need good local papers. I am glad to share a few bucks to enable them. I check other papers online or in the library, but these are my three bedrocks.

Magazines give us more depth and time to deal with issues beyond the headlines. Again, I have 3 that I judge essential reading. I am less thoughtful and less informed without them. These are the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and a bit more sporadically, the Economist. They are a joy to read and reflect upon. Even when I do not agree, I am impressed with the quality and (almost always) the intellectual honesty.

The Atlantic has set that standard for over 160 years. The New Yorker amazes me with the amount and variety of its input, especially online. The Economist excels at framing big issues over long timelines and across global geography. If you are not reading these, you are depriving yourself.

Next, I have what I call my Surprise Group of magazines. These are magazines that I stumbled across. They surprised me in finding how very good and substantive they are. Three are on that roster now.

One is Fortune, which I have mentioned in other blog posts. It does impressive work and is not the blind devotee of big business one might expect. Every issue seems to have something that surprises and impresses me.

The second one is Wired, about which I am enormously enthusiastic. For $10 a year (!), you get a wide range of articles that are not just suitable for geeks. I find excellent articles about artificial intelligence, social media, economics, and much more. Something occasionally makes print that lacks maturity and balance, but that is rare. This is an up and coming magazine.

Last, Vanity Fair. It is hard to take seriously a publication with such a name. But they have done world-class investigative journalism over the last couple of years.

Books, Anyone?

I use two services that are most helpful. Bookbub (free) scours the internet for eBooks on subjects or authors you tell it you like. Every day you receive a list, usually at very steep discounts, along with links to the sellers. I find it necessary to tell myself I cannot read an email from Bookbub if I have more than six books in my reading que. However, I often cheat….

The other service is Amazon’s offer for most books to read about 20 pages (free) before deciding if you want a book. Between that and reviews, one can pretty well judge if the book is a good investment of time and money. I sometimes take that advice and then buy the book locally. Amazon can absorb the occasional loss, me thinks.

Online Reading

I have five online services that are excellent.

First and foremost is Flipboard. This is a free service that you tell what you find interesting. You can do so by source, by topic, by authors – lots of ways to tell them what you want. You can update the list at any time. In return, they build a custom website or newspaper, accessible via their app or their website. My wife and I hit Flipboard multiple times daily. The content constantly updates and offers an amazing range. Probably half the things we talk about involve something we read that day on Flipboard.

Second is Blendle, which I very much like. Originally a Dutch start up, it went to Germany and spread through Europe. It is now in the US as a New York Times company. I like it for a couple of reasons.

First, it does a good job of assembling diverse and well-done stories from many sources. Second, it offers a great solution for paying journalists for their work. With Blendle, you set up an account and put in a small amount on credit, say $10.00. Blendle periodically  sends you a synopsis of available stories, along with the price. Most come in at around 25 cents or so. When you run low on your account, put in a few more bucks and off you go. This is the Netflix or iTunes of journalism. The cost is negligible; the value is high.

Next is Curiosity Stream (small enrollment fee). This is an addictive site you can watch on a computer, mobile device, or smart TV. It features short videos/series. These are about science, history, lifestyle, technology, nature, society, and other assorted areas. The scholarship is solid, the presentations professional, and the graphics are gorgeous.

I also heartily recommend TED Talks (free). TED (Technology, Education, and Design) offers over 1400 short presentations. They are on any subject imaginable. They are well organized for browsing. Presenters are well chosen and well prepared. These are great for individual viewing and for discussion groups. This is a candy store for ideas. Enjoy!

Last is OZY (free), something of a younger version of Flipboard. Run by a young crowd, it works a bit harder at trying to be crisp and a bit faster paced. Still a work in progress, but worth trying for a while to see if you like it. I find good stories there pretty often.

That’s my current list. I am providing links to each of them below, if you want to try any of them out yourself. How about you? Have any favorite regular sources you would like to share with the rest of us? What feeds your soul, scratches your intellect, and has your trust?


New York Times https://www.nytimes.com

Washington Post https://www.nytimes.com

The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com

New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com

Economist https://www.economist.com

Fortune http://fortune.com

Wired https://www.wired.com

Vanity Fair https://www.vanityfair.com

Bookbub https://www.bookbub.com/welcome

Amazon https://www.amazon.com

Flipboard https://about.flipboard.com

Blendle https://blendle.com/signup/kiosk

Curiosity Stream https://curiositystream.com

TED Talks https://www.ted.com

OZY https://www.ozy.com/about-ozy

    Bill Clontz

If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do two things:

(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here.

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3 replies to What Are We Reading? Tips for Finding the Good Stuff

  1. Love BookBub. I won’t even try to implement a rule like yours, though. I wouldn’t last two days. And I think I’ll give Blendle a try. I hadn’t heard of it before.

    • BookBub really is fun, isn’t it? I would have missed a lot of good reading without it.

      Glad you will look at Blendle. There is a lot to like there. Really good selections and I like the idea of an affordable way to pay authors and publishers for their work. Bet you will like it, too.

  2. Thanks so much for this! I have been scattered and overwhelmed by too much politically based stuff. Your system looks helpful in managing the input.

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