The only things I’ve enjoyed reading lately

Helena Touhey
Feb 18 · 4 min read

I find I go through phases where I can read nothing but books, and then I can’t read books at all, I can only watch films, or a TV series. In between, I can read news articles and essays here and there, sometimes reading the paper for hours, and other times barely skimming the main feature stories. My attention flits from medium to medium, collecting bits and pieces from each, bringing these back to the web of my mind, where they become stored and tangled, food for thoughts and ideas that get stuck as easily as they seem to have been spun into creation. The web gets bigger and bigger, messier and messier, some ideas harder to find again, or to remember why there were so intriguing to begin with. And on and on it goes.

Some time ago I decided I was a “seeker and collector of stories.” And because I am a millennial and we’re 19 years into the 21st century, this became my personal brand. It’s on my website and my business cards; my Facebook profile and my Instagram account. This saying even finds itself on the bottom of emails I send, and on resumes I submit. It’s become more a part of me than my middle name (which is Lee, by the way). But it’s true: I am a seeker and collector of stories, and have been since as long as I can remember.

As a child, I roamed around my backyard talking to imaginary friends, all of whom had names and stories. When I was indoors, I played with my barbies, who were fashioned with narratives. On bus rides to elementary school, I would look out the window and drift off into detailed daydreams. As a middle school student, I became a keeper of secrets, with people choosing to confide in me all sorts of things. In high school, this was still happening, and I realized I knew a lot about people who didn’t know me at all. And in college, it dawned on me that I had been collecting friends for a decade, a motley crew of characters who, if put in a room together, likely wouldn’t care for each other at all.

Not much has changed. Except now I am adult who became a journalist and spent seven years working in a newsroom where I actually wrote stories for a living, working among professional characters who also collect confidences and trade in knowing more about people than those people know about them. When friends would ask what I do, I told them I extract people’s stories: a skill, and a superpower.

Almost a year ago I left that newsroom. In a rather chaotic flurry I packed up my life and stored it away, not in the vaults of my daydreams but in the cement box of a storage unit. I hopped on a plane and traveled for four and a half months, moving around three continents, traversing 15 countries and territories, and traveling through centuries of history, real and imagined. And then I came home. That was six months ago. I’d like to say a lot has happened since, but I’m not sure I’ll know what has actually transpired until some years have passed. In the meantime, I find myself writing from a place of “still sorting out my life.” So it goes.

All of this is a long way to get around to my initial point: I have been having a hard time reading books lately, and have found myself gathering inspiration from indirect sources, namely editor and authors notes. I’m going to share a few of those below and hope they bring a smile, or contemplative pause, or __________, to whoever reads them; Enjoy!

— Helena

“Behind the story,” a collage (2019)

Some things I’ve enjoyed reading lately:

  • Ava DuVernay’s musings on creativity and optimism in “Why Art is the Antidote for Our Times,” her guest editor letter in the most recent issue of Time Magazine
  • Hanya Yanagihara’s commentary on the beauty of collaboration in her Letter From The Editor in the most recent issue of T Magazine: “From Many, One”
  • The preface of Joan Didion’s book of collected essays, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” published in 1968 (you have to “Look Inside” and scroll a bit for this one, but the preface is there, in full)
  • And, lastly, the Preface to the 1980 Edition of Nora Ephron’s work “Wallflower at the Orgy,” another collection of essays from the ’60s (where you again have to “Look Inside” and scroll down). This precedes her original Introduction, with the added insight of 10 years of gained life experience. “Here are these remnants of my former self, old snakeskins,” Ephron writes, “and it amuses me to read them and remember how dippy I used to be.”

p.s. I recommend borrowing both books from your local library. The Amazon links are a bit of a tease. Same goes for the magazines: web versions are more streamlined, yes, but there is a special joy reserved for reading publications in print. — H

Helena Touhey

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seeker & collector of stories | writer, editor & journalist

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