I used to write code, and when you write code, you talk a lot about iterating. This means that you write an early version that’s not perfect but that sort of works. Then you keep improving it. It’s like revision, in a way.

When this site kicked off officially on Bloomsday of 2009, it was a spur off of the popular Infinite Summer project. There was a fair bit of hype for that project, and we were lucky to sort of cruise along in its slipstream, so we had pretty lively discussion in the comments for that read and some of the ones that followed. I suppose there must have been Reddit or Slashdot or maybe Digg for discussion sites back then, but I think it also wasn’t all that uncommon for people to comment on sites like this. I suspect a lot more people use Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram to discuss things now. But then we stopped discussing books for a few years, the hype died down, and I suspect people moved on to other ways of engaging with the web. Heck, these days a lot is happening on Zoom or Discord.

Before I say more, I’ll say this: What follows is not a complaint, though I worry that it’ll sound a little like one. But it’s not. Hear me out.

I’ve felt a little so far like I’m just broadcasting about Bubblegum. And that’s fine — I’m happy to do it if it’s interesting to whoever’s reading. It’s rewarding to me to read the book carefully and to organize my thoughts about it, and having declared publicly that I’ll do so gives me some useful accountability and helps me read with more focus than I likely would otherwise. So these projects are good for me personally. But I suspect that there are people reading who might have really neat things to contribute, but who aren’t doing so because it seems sort of old-timey to comment on a blog, or there’s a barrier to entry (creating an account, etc.), or this just isn’t their discussion platform of choice.

So I thought maybe it was worth considering iterating on the approach, to see if the bigger community of readers here might engage more if there were a different way to engage. I don’t think I’m super interested in moderating discussions across many different platforms, but if I got the sense that more people might speak up if we opened up discussion elsewhere, I’d consider it. So, if you’re reading along and feel like you might share your insights, questions, etc., if we opened up discussion elsewhere, I’d be grateful if you’d leave a comment, reach out to me at @infinitezombies on Twitter, or send me an email at to let me know how or where you’d be more likely to jump in with your thoughts. We’ve got six more weeks of reading (with the prospect of doing other books in the future if there seems to be interest), and if we can stir up more discussion, I’d love to, as I know it’d enrich my reading further and might do the same for others.

If you’ve just been shy about commenting or wasn’t sure what protocol was, I’d like to encourage you to jump in. Point out things we’ve missed, riff on things we share, reach out to me if you’ve got an idea for a post you’d like to write, and so on. And if you’re really just not interested in discussion but are reading anyway, thanks for reading!

13 thoughts on “Iterating

  1. Rob May 23, 2020 / 2:02 am

    I started reading here having seen your wallace-l post about Bubblegum. And somehow I keep checking here about once a week because I keep seeing that email with the link saved in my wallace-l folder. I haven’t bookmarked your site as such, but it hasn’t fallen into my memory hole yet. The email thing is working for me.

    Yes, there is a hesitance. But I’m not a great sample–always hesitant. I wrote a comment of three paragraphs a week ago for this site and then copied it to Notepad++ and never posted it in this box. Maybe I’ll do that or something similar now.

    I mean, complain. To the extent it’s intended to reflect a larger issue with the current (I’m choosing not to say “modern”) web, it’s a fair complaint. We need more complaints, I think, these days. People of intelligence are afraid to be evaluative now, for some reason. They’re afraid of e*value*ation being interpreted as “get off my lawn”. I see this all the time in “literate” communities that skew middle-aged.

    ……..Anyway……. Thank you for introducing me to this book. I don’t read a lot. The last two things I read were Overstory (great & thanks to the list) and The Last Empress (also rec’d on the list, but I didn’t get anything out of it really–though the writer was compelling at the line level like Levin is).

    I don’t know if I would participate more elsewhere. Yes, maybe. I am a light user of Reddit and I just bet if we made a new /sub to be used as an ongoing reading group, I would contribute to that sub, and use it to encourage myself to read regularly. It’s not difficult to create a dedicated subreddit nor to sign up to Reddit. And for people who may have “heard bad things about Reddit”, this is simplistic lefty propaganda–I mean you go where you go. If you go to one good place on Reddit, then Reddit is good. In the process one still manages to avoid supporting the internet monopoly-trillionaire ecosystem (FB GOOG AAPL MSFT etc), which is why I view Reddit as a very good compromise.

    • Paul Debraski May 23, 2020 / 12:07 pm

      I love l-wallace book recommendations. I missed Overstory (the title is intriguing already) and The Last Empress. So thanks for putting them in my already over-long list of books to read.

    • Daryl L. L. Houston May 24, 2020 / 10:03 pm

      Thanks for speaking up! I think complaint is fine, but complaint here feels to me like “look at me, look at me, talk to me, entertain me, validate me,” which is far from what I intend to mean, which is more like “say smart things and maybe we can have a cool conversation.”

      I made a Reddit sub (/r/groupread — private for now; /r/infinitezombies was taken and not topical) but didn’t want to kick anything off there without some indication that there’d be some interest. So I’ll probably just sit on it for now, but if a fair few folks speak up or if this thing really takes off, maybe I’ll start pushing stuff over there too.

  2. Paul Debraski May 23, 2020 / 12:06 pm

    Infinite Summer was 11 years ago? Wow. I still have shirts from that summer.

    Back in the early days of the web, I used to belong to a bunch of listservs. I can recall talking a lot on them and getting really involved with threads and even people. I traveled to Vancouver to meet someone that I’d been chatting with for over a year. I found the experience wonderful (Vancouver was great), she found it very unsettling (I have that effect on people, I guess). I don’t know if either one of us thought all that much about the potential for cyber-murder in 1999, although she may have when she saw me face to face (not that I have scar across my face or wear a eyepatch or anything).

    Since then I have kind of given up on any kind of major discussion on line.

    Much like I said with podcasts, it’s a whole world that i can easily get sucked into and which I’d rather not.

    You can probably tell from all my comments that I tend to be long winded. So if I ever got involved with a more frequent comment-world, I could find myself not coming up for air.

    I don’t even read all that much on l-wallace just because there’s (often) too much information. Of course, I’m glad it’s still there or I never would have found out about the wonderful Ducks, Newburyport (speaking of long-winded).

    I do get what you say about broadcasting. I’ve been posting to my blog for over 13 years. At one point I sort of thought about readership, but a few years ago I decided I’m doing it for myself, and if anyone else gets something out of it, that’s great.

    I noticed that I have over 1 million hits on my site which impressed my kids, even when I told them it took 13 years to get that many. I assume most of them are bots or something. But every once in a while a sentient being will comment, which is nice.

    If you’re right that fewer people comment on blogs than elsewhere, I guess that makes me understand the lack of comments more.

    I’m not the tech person to ask about where to go for more traffic. I do think it would be fun to have more “outsiders” engaged. Although I don’t know how much work is worth it.

    A long winded way to say “I dunno.”

    • Daryl L. L. Houston May 24, 2020 / 10:06 pm

      Hey, congrats on the million, that’s a big milestone! I’m with you w/r/t falling down the comment rabbit hole. I mostly don’t do much of that online (even on wallace-l over this last decade or so) and probably couldn’t do too much of it over a long period here. But a few comments a day during an active read I feel like I could manage. I’m glad you’re here reading and writing, with or without a great volume of discussion in the comments.

  3. Jeff Anderson May 25, 2020 / 1:50 pm

    I know you’re not looking for apologies from anybody with this post, Daryl, but it does dovetail with something I was wanting to say anyway, which is that last week was my no-time week. (Took on a project making masks for a bunch of friends and family, and as usual I bit off enough to leave me chipmunk-cheeked for a week.) But I’m eager to be a part of the discussion! Unfortunately, I’m as clueless as you are where this kind of discussion happens nowadays. ;p

    • Daryl L. L. Houston May 25, 2020 / 4:19 pm

      How dare you help reduce virus pandemic instead of joining in the discussion! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Naptimewriting May 26, 2020 / 8:59 pm


        Back in 2009 we didnโ€™t have emoji to summarize, did we?

        Very satisfying iteration.


  4. ellieharrisonblog May 26, 2020 / 8:42 am

    As someone who lurks often and posts seldomly, it’s not because I am not engaged or interested in what you all are saying! It’s more because I feel so out of my depth – you all are so thoughtful about how you engage with the material and I am a 22 year old with a degree in psychology who does not feel as though she can keep up. (I think I say that more as a reflection of my own self-consciousness as opposed to anything you all have done or said.)

    Also, to be fair, I only realized where/how to comment maybe last week.

    If we were to do this on another platform, I think Reddit would make the most sense, just due to layout, but I kind of like this separate blog situation. I’m not sure I have a solution, just wanted to let you know I am out here listening. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Daryl L. L. Houston May 26, 2020 / 10:14 pm

      Hey, thanks for speaking up. I’m glad to learn you’re lurking (it was cool to run into you on Reddit too!). Try not to worry too much about being out of your depth. You’re here, which means you’re interested in reading critically, and plenty of 22-year-old psych grads have neat things to say about what they read. Self-consciousness is understandable, so stay within your comfort zone, but I just want to reassure you that you’re just here with other readers and it’s ok to float weird ideas, ask questions, or even to be wrong-headed about something. I learned just last night that I’ve pretty badly misread the Kafka story in the epigraph, and I think there’s another bit of Bubblegum I’ve misread too, so even we wise old sages (or at least this one) get it wrong and maybe aren’t plumbing things as deeply as it may seem from all the blather. Thanks for reading along and for letting me know you’re lurking.

  5. ellieharrisonblog May 26, 2020 / 8:48 am

    Also, I hear what you’re saying about just jumping in with commenting, but I’m not sure my thoughts make logical sense with any of these posts. I’ve been thinking a lot about Donna Haraway, and her Companion Species Manifesto. Her idea of “significant otherness” seems to play a big part in how Belt relates to others (not just inans and Blankey, but also other people, interestingly enough).

  6. Naptimewriting May 26, 2020 / 9:02 pm

    I always read what you write. And enjoy it.

    Iโ€™m not joining the group read because of time constraints, general pandemic moodiness, and several books Iโ€™d rather read first.

    Zero educated comments to make, but youโ€™re not writing for the void. We are here.

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