Ever wonder what Mechanics’ Institute staff consider required reading on the web? In our spare time, many of us enjoy not only books in all formats, but web-based writings as well. Here are just a few of our go-to blogs and websites:
Taryn, Strategic Partnerships Manager, Librarian
"I admit it, I am a calendar nerd. I’m obsessed with my schedule, I love jotting to-do lists, and I adore journaling. For a long time I tried to accomplish this with several online tools (one for scheduling, one for lists and one for journaling) but eventually I came to realize that the old way of doing things – using paper – was more effective. Apparently I am not alone. Try Googling 'paper planner' and you’ll be amazed by how many folks still use this analog style of time keeping. Philofaxy: for the love of Filofax is a blog aimed at obsessive/compulsive planners, especially those who love ring-bound planning systems, like FIlofax of Franklin Covey. Other stationery crazed people will also enjoy the blog’s reviews of time keeping systems, customization hacks, free diary inserts, and the titillating photos of glossy leather binders, fountain pens and Japanese paper."
"The author of the Storyfix blog is Larry Brooks, a novelist and writing structure guru. We have two of his books on fiction writing process, Story Engineering and Story Physics, which are AMAZING; but his blog BLOWS THE MIND because it consistently reinforces the message of his books – that to write a gut wrenching, spirit lifting, gobsmacking story, an author must pay attention to its structure from concept to character to sequence and theme, and effectively marry that structure with a vision for how all the parts [will] come together to become a cohesive whole. The blog also provides timely publication news, storytelling advice from guest speakers, and case-studies, or writing examples, from Brooks’ coaching clients (with permission of course). Brooks masterfully explains what works and what doesn’t with each story sample and adeptly comes up with viable solutions. All in all, this is one of my favorite writing sources of all time!"
Cherilyn, Library Assistant
"In Subway Book Review, strangers riding the New York City subway are asked what they are reading. People from different walks of life and backgrounds are asked to not only talk about what they are reading, but to also give a snippet about who they are and why they are reading this particular book at this particular point in their life. The blog includes many interesting book recommendations, but even more interesting stories of peoples' lives."
Pam, Events Assistant
"I cannot tell a lie. My favorite website is James Lileks’ massive Institute of Official Cheer. Here, humorist James Lileks wages his very funny war against bad advertising and design – especially the bad, bad design of the 1970s. For me, the funniest sections are:
- His tour of the 'Grooviest Hotel in Wisconsin,' The Gobbler (Yes, this place really existed.)
- His compendium of bad men’s fashion, The Dorcus Catalog
- And his weird take on Spry Vegetable Shortening and its Betty Crocker-like avatar, Aunt Jenny.
This is my personal favorite because it’s not only funny, but develops into a believable, sometimes sad meditation on small-town life in the first part of the 20th century."
Joel, Librarian, Head of Technical Services
"50 Watts assembles collections of fantastic illustrations and designs from various books or pieces of ephemera. Will, the curator, is a complete bibliophile and gets his hands on some wonderfully obscure and gorgeous works. Sadly the blog has been on hiatus for almost a year, but it's still one of the best image-based blogs out there.
"We live in an amazing area for art and (if you ask me) some of the best art being made today is out in our streets. Street Art SF is a blog to which people submit pictures of murals, graffiti, stickers, and various other forms of art found around the streets of the Bay Area.
"Atlas Obscura, the blog for the amazing 'hidden wonders' website, posts articles highlighting overlooked places and curiosities, as well as interesting articles focused on forgotten aspects of history, culture, and geography. The library also has a copy of their excellent new book Atlas obscura : an explorer's guide to the world's hidden wonders."
Myles, Library Assistant
"My favorite blog is Digital Photography Review. They cover developments in imaging from cheap consumer electronics to equipment used in big-budget cinema. While gear news takes up the most of the content, it's also an excellent source for extraordinary photos of nature and breaking world events. If you're a shutterbug, be sure to check it out."
Lia, Cataloging & Metadata Librarian
"Firstly, I love Budget Bytes because I love to cook. For me, cooking dinner is part of how I unwind at the end of the day – creating good food feels like a meditation to me. I also love Budget Bytes because I like finding ways to feed myself and my partner healthily while saving money. Beth, who runs the site, writes recipes that are easy to follow with plenty of photos at each stage of the cooking process.
"While I am nowhere near as frugal as the couple who runs Frugalwoods, I love reading about their great frugality ideas. Frugalwoods contains a wealth of financial and simple living advice.
"As someone who likes video games, I check Kotaku at least a few times a week for all the latest video game news, as well as a hilarious once a week highlight reel."
My own picks include Idlewords, Kottke, and Brain Pickings.
At Idlewords, you'll find a wealth of longform work on the web (a bit of a rarity), covering topics that I’m not necessarily passionate about, but am definitely interested in. It’s a nice weekend-reads kind of blog. Maciej Cegłowski writes pieces brimming with curiosity about a variety of topics – from the dysfunction of patent law, to dancing and eating steak (two different pieces) in Argentina. There’s a lot of travel in this blog, a lot of writing about food, and science, and books… it’s basically a smorgasbord of interesting thoughts.
In his eponymous blog, Jason Kottke maintains possibly the longest continuously-running blog on the web: founded in 1998! He describes this body of more than 26,000 posts like so: "Basically, it’s the world’s complete knowledge, relentlessly filtered through my particular worldview, with all the advantages and disadvantages that entails." And his particular worldview is pretty delightful, IMO. A few of my favorite things, from baseball to butter, show up on this site. Short reads, information visualizations galore, links out to interesting work, and longer meditations on a rainbow of topics -- I check in with this blog almost daily.
Maria Popova is the reigning queen of the bookworms! At Brain Pickings, she writes about all the books you wish you'd read, in what read more like topical essays than straight-faced book reviews. She moves lyrically, meditatively, and often provocatively, through many publications and cultural influences in discussing whichever book her piece is ostensibly about. I regularly add five more items to my reading list whenever I check a review of a single new (or old) book she's writing about. Bonus? She loves libraries, and links book titles to Worldcat instead of Amazon!
Whether you’re looking for timely topics, humor, art and photography, gaming news, writing advice, or a good long read – check out some of our favorite blogs and see what you think!