Recent, Relevant, Random

Another installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything.


Rob Walker writes about how technology is changing the way that we live, and the way we consume. Especially the way we consume culture. He says that it’s getting more and more difficult for working journalists like him to escape the whirlpool of new gadget stories because these stories get measured by likes and retweets.

One of Rob’s regular columns at Yahoo Tech is called “the New Old Thing,” every installment is a gentle reproach, a reminder that we have become slaves to the recent. In each installment he writes about things that aren’t new, and which have no news hook, but which he thinks are great, like forgotten ABBA tracks or Patti Smith singing on a kids show in the late 70s.

A lot of these columns are driven by Rob’s personal obsessions and interests, but that’s the point. He believes that the incredible upside of of the Internet is that anyone can decide what cultural artifacts are important to them. The goal of the New Old Thing is to champion the things Rob thinks are relevant.


NYRB Classics is a still-growing series of fiction and nonfiction books that are usually otherwise out-of-print. Foreign bestsellers and masterpieces lost to time are a part of the collection, and it gives some books a life they never had when they were first published. John Williams’s novel Stoner was a dud when it first came out in 1965, selling just a few hundred copies. NYRB Classics published a new version in 2006. Now it’s an international bestseller.

I own probably a hundred books from the series, but I couldn’t tell you what binds them together. So I decided to ask Edwin Frank, who edits the series. His initial answer was quick and pretty short:

“How do we select the books? Rigorously by whim.”

It’s the same line that he usually gives people who ask the question, and it’s hard to blame him. I know all too well what how tough it is to explain an editorial sense that includes everything.

The reality is that Edwin deals in books that are supposed to alter the way you think. If there’s an algorithm that controls NYRB classics it’s this: if you like one life-changing experience, they can give you a whole bunch more.


The New York Society Library has been around since 1745. It’s the oldest library in New York City, and you have to be a member to check out books. Phyllis Rose is a member.

Phyllis is a book critic, essayist, memoirist, and biographer. A few years ago she decided she wanted to read every book in the New York Society Library.

She quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. So she decided to read a shelf.

She set a few rules to determine the shelf. Her shelf had to have more than one woman writer. It had couldn’t have too many books by the same author. It needed a classic she hadn’t read.

She settled on the shelf that ran from LEQ — LES.

Phyllis wrote about her time reading through the shelf. She struggled with some books, delighted in others, and even sought out some of the authors on her shelf. The book that emerged from her experiment is subtitled “Adventures in Extreme Reading.”

I actually added almost every writer on Phyllis’s shelf to my reading list, and I’m sure many of her readers will do the same. But it would be a mistake to view The Shelf as a book about forgotten or neglected writers. The Shelf is about discovery — and no, there is not an app for that.