The [Tuesday] Media Diet with Craig Mod

On Japan, data visualization and long walks

We’ve been a longtime fan of Craig Mod (CM) and his various tasteful projects. The Japan-based writer and photographer recently released a book, Kissa by Kissa, that will have a re-print in July. Don’t miss it. Here, he lets us peer into his consumption habits. Have a great week. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I have a degree in computer science and fine arts (focus: photography) and a lifelong love of books and writing. Who you know me as probably depends on when you discovered my work. During the last twenty years, you may have known me as a “data visualization specialist” or indie press art director or product designer or “Future of the Book Prognosticating #ThinkFluencer.” Anyway, at some point, you have to “become an adult” and make some choices and this last decade has been firmly focused on writing and photography. Since 2019 I've run a membership program (https://craigmod.com/membership/) that powers my ability to go on extremely long walks (1000km+) through the (mainly) Japanese (although Chinese and Spanish and Kazakh, too) countryside interviewing tomato farmers and eating pizza toast, all the while photographing the quotidian banalities (flapping laundry, neglected gardens) of depopulating villages. The first book in my “How to Walk Japan” series, "Kissa by Kissa,” came out last year and much to my surprise it has sold out of two printings more quickly than I had anticipated. (A third is on the way.)

Describe your media diet. 

Internet goes off before bed. No internet until afternoon. Mornings are for reading books and writing. I try to limit news to smart speaker updates — “Hey Googs, what’s the latest NPR news?” — since there is a natural backstop (the update ends) and it’s impossible to get sucked into hours of news gaping this way. Books, I read 50/50 on a Kindle/paper. Kindle is usefully quick and dirty although I despise the ecosystem. Any book I love enough to finish on Kindle I immediately buy the paper version for my library. Longform articles usually get sent to my Kindle or printed out for reading later since I find focusing on a long-form essay in a browser is akin to self-waterboarding. Mediums definitely matter! And if someone spent a great deal of time on a 5,000-word essay for NYT Magazine or The Atlantic, I want to make sure I’m fully there (full attention, full focus) for the ride. 

What’s the last great book you read?

Atticus Lish’s Preparations for the Next Life

What are you reading now?

Everything Now, by Rosecrans Baldwin. I love this book so much. I am a few dozen pages away from the end and am dreading losing the daily pleasure of hanging out in Mr. Baldwin’s noggin. 

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

The only print publication I regularly read is Sewanee Review, which is a marvel, and never ceases to delight. It arrives quarterly. I scan the TOC first, looking for favorite writers, and then depending on the title of the non-fiction essay for the quarter, read that, or else dip into the fiction. If a story’s voice doesn’t have me in the first page or so, I move on to the next one. I am shameless like that. SR has helped fill in all sorts of embarrassing holes in my lit knowledge like I never read Steven Millhauser (didn’t even know the name) until I started reading one of his short stories in SR and was like — WHO IS THIS MAN WITH THIS VOICE. It’s funny how talent can sometimes be so immediately apparent. 

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

Lynne Tilman! Her essays, books, everything. 

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? 

Maybe … Gaia GPS? Which I use for loading gpx files and mapping out my mega-walks. 

Plane or train?

OMG, is this some kind of Logan’s Run trick question? A way to unveil the closet miscreants? (*whispering* obviously train, always train, even trans-pacific — train to the ocean and fly as short a distance as possible and then straight back to a train!)

What is one place everyone should visit? 

Baikonur, a marvel of frozen Soviet-era life, the location of, until recently, the only space-facility capable of sending humans to the ISS, and also a place that non-ironically still uses WAX SEALS to double-check for tampering on doors/cabinets. 

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into. 

Eight years ago my buddy John invited me on a hike on the Kumano Kodō route down on the Kii Peninsula here in Japan (ah — I’m based in Japan, have been here for the greater part of the last 21 years). Fast forward to last month — I’ve now walked a thousand+ kilometers of the peninsula, including every millimeter of UNESCO World Heritage “certified” (I find it weird to “certify” heritage, but… ) paths — the Naka-hechi, Ko-hechi, O-hechi, Ise-ji, Omine Okugake Michi, and more — and these walks have come to define my work and the rhythm of my years and life. I would have never guessed that that first walk would have precipitated this but, here we are, many years and many hundreds of thousands of words about walking and a few books later. Thanks, John! (CM)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Craig (CM)

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