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Old Reads: What I Found While Clearing Out My Instapaper Account

February 17, 2015

I love Instapaper, and it was likely the first app I bought when I got my first iPod touch(!). It provided a simple solution to a problem I encountered often: it lets me save articles in a clean, off-line format to “read later.” The off-line part is less important now that I have an iPhone, but I still appreciate having things I selected to save for the moments I had to read.

For a digital hoarder like me, this was a blessing and a curse. It let me “catch up” on everything I wanted to read, at least until the collection of saved links became too much. This past Saturday morning, I went to my account on the web and found that my saved links went 46 pages deep. At 40 articles a page, this meant over 1800 unread articles (I screwed up the math on Twitter on Saturday. I still hadn’t finished my coffee, in my defense). I got to work deleting most of these long-irrelevant articles with the hope of making it manageable.

I’m down to 173 articles. Some of them are things I want to move to “long term” bookmarking, and some of them are recent links I earnestly want to read. While combing through these links, I saved a few relevant, representative, or otherwise amusing ones to link below. Now, it’s on to clean off my desk, get caught up with my laundry, and audit my bookshelves (sense a theme?)

Question in the Form of An Answer: Frank Ocean (Passion of the Weiss) –  This is the oldest thing I have saved, and I can’t remember if I saved it because I didn’t read it or because I wanted to save it for something else. From April 2011, a couple months after Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra and after the wild Odd Future performance on Jimmy Fallon, this interview is still a few years away from Ocean’s largest cultural impact (“No Church in the Wild,” Channel Orange, and Ocean’s letter about his sexuality). I heard “Bad Religion” from Channel Orange recently (it must have been on TV, which seems very weird), and earlier I saw someone share a Photoshop of the new Drake mixtape rewritten to be about Ocean’s next album, so maybe all of this means that I should queue up Nostalgia, Ultra again.

The Top 100 Albums I Need to Hear, 1996–2011: A Highly Subjective and Personalized People’s List (SCTTTNNNT) – Scott Tennent is a terrific music writer, and around the time that Pitchfork did their “People’s List” thing (remember that? Well, if not, the individual ballot links look dead) and meticulously compiled a lot of ballots to make a list of albums he hadn’t heard. I know I read it, and I’m pretty sure I saved it for reference for later.

MLB’s Super Sweet 16 Prospects Coming to a Pennant Race Near You (Grantland) – I should preface this by saying that Jonah Keri is one of my favorite baseball writers, and the point of sharing this isn’t to show what he got wrong/right. After all, Keri was not the only one who thought Meyers and some of these other prospects were poised for a breakthrough. Instead, reading through the article almost two years later, it’s crazy how much has changed (not to mention how some of these guys still haven’t had their shot. Two additional notes: first, the paragraph on Oscar Tavares is heartbreaking now. Second, lest one accuse me of living in a glass house, here are my far more recent, far worse baseball predictions.

Top of the Pops: YouTube Shakes Up the Billboard Charts (Slate) – I must have attempted to clean out Instapaper a little while ago, because the articles leapt ahead around page 35. This article from 2013, which I admittedly didn’t read, prompted me to think about the last time I thought about “Harlem Shake.” It’s funny how quickly things move from ubiquitous to forgotten.

Three weird audio links – Sometimes, I try to use Instapaper as “short term bookmarking.” This only works if I go back to it before sending another 20 links that push it down. So occasionally, I save videos or audio clips with the intention of listening or watching when I get home. Here are three I found (probably from Twitter, although Instapaper doesn’t save the source. Sorry) that provide a representative sample of what I found in my archives.

“A Guided Tour of Beck: Making Sense of His Canon” (Vulture) – Maura Johnston’s survey of Beck’s catalog from last February might be an even better read now after Beck’s (somewhat) surprising Grammy win this February. I adored Beck around the turn of the century, gave cursory listens to a lot of last decade’s releases, and at some point completely checked out on him. I’m keeping this in my unread folder to see where I should delve back in.

“The Red Sox are David Ortiz’s Team, and Boston is His City” (Yahoo! Sports) – I noticed a lot of trends in the articles I saved. It makes sense, particularly when there are many things I’d like to read and have time to read only one or two of them. I went through a lot of articles on Ferguson, and as I worked through these articles I saved several tributes to the late David Carr (appropriately, there were several of his pieces saved in my archives). There wasn’t much about the Boston Marathon, perhaps because it fell into the window that I appear to have cleaned out, and partially because I read a lot of those things right as they happened. This article, from last spring, fell into the category of things I read (and enjoyed) and then saved for later “use.” I’m not sure what I intended to do with it, but I didn’t mind skimming back through it again.

“Hail Satan, Tonight: John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van” (The Hairpin) – One of my favorite uses for Instapaper is to save things about books that I’ve bought but haven’t read. I think my pipe dream is that I’ll “remember” to come back and read it after I’ve read the book. I read this one (or at least the beginning of it) and saved it for when I got around to reading Darnielle’s novel. It’s sitting on my shelf in largely the same place it’s been since I bought it.

“Portland, ME: Locavore in Menu and Decor” (New York Times) – We took a trip to Portland on November 1, and while we enjoyed our brief stay, we were unprepared for the unseasonable cold and rain that night and the snow the following morning (this seems laughable given the past three weeks and nearly 100 inches of snow in Boston). Our trip was truncated as we preferred to call it an early night versus running around rainy streets under dressed. I saved this for a future, sunnier return visit (and I’ll take your recommendations as well).

“The Full Transcript of Lil’ B’s Groundbreaking Lecture at MIT” (The Fader)This link represents a large number of things I save to Instapaper – I had a genuine interest in it, read some of it, have no intention of reading the rest of it, and still won’t delete it.

“Brother from Another Mother” (The New Yorker) – This is the most recent thing I’ve saved – Zadie Smith on Key and Peele. I had at least ten of Smith’s pieces saved – fiction, culture writing, now-paywalled pieces, etc – for “when I have my complete attention to devote to it.” There’s a fighting chance I finish reading this one before my vacation ends.

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