If you’re anything like me, you’re pretty disillusioned with American football. Between high school players being violent douchebags, college level players being treated like replaceable farm-hands, and the NFL never once being concerned about their own players health and safety, it is a difficult sport to support.
Think about it – calling American football “foot-ball” makes ZERO sense. Kickers aren’t even considered real players and that oblong shape barely qualifies as a ball. Luckily for me, I’ve been watching actual football longer than I’ve been watching America’s bastardization of the game. European football is alive and well in 2020, my friends, and it’s entertaining as hell, too. No postponing matches due to too many thick necks in the meat locker; Europe as a whole has a much better grip on this thing than we do, and it is reflected in their professional sports leagues. Look at how much better they are at hosting large sporting events than us.
With stadiums totally empty until just recently, European soccer clubs are still able to play their full schedules, with their full teams, at their full pace. It has been a wonderfully entertaining season thus far; certainly better than watching the Denver Broncos play a practice squad QB or watching LSU use their players at test subjects for herd immunity.
So, at this point, you may be wondering: “Professional athletes actually playing at a professional level? That sounds great. But how do I get into it?” Well, my friends, I’m here to help. Football, as they call it in Europe, is more commonly known as "soccer" here in the States. To avoid confusion, I will refer to the sport in question as soccer for the rest of the article.
Why should I care about soccer?
No one said you have to “care” about what you’re watching, weirdo. I’m just telling you who and how to watch if you’re ready for something new. They call it the beautiful game for a reason. For instance, this clip:
That’s Messi, the soccer player equivalent of a nuclear bomb. Grown men like me wear shirts with his name on it; that’s how good he is. But more on him later.
Soccer, when played at the highest levels, is thrilling as hell. There is a key qualifier in that statement: when played at the highest levels. I hate to say it, but I can’t watch the MLS. I commend MLS fans and their sincere efforts, but Major League Soccer is not for me. As much as the MLS resists the moniker, it is a retirement league at worst and a farmer’s league at best. Me recommending that you get into soccer by watching the MLS would be like Maria Taylor recommending you get into football by watching the CFL. Sure, they are technically professionals, but they are undeniably a few steps (or maybe even a few flights of stairs) from the top. If you want to get to the top of soccer, you’ve got to go to Europe.
Europe has so much to offer, and that’s mostly because it’s not all one country. Given the breadth of European soccer's variety, there’s a short but steep learning curve for getting into European soccer. But no worries! I’m going to push you right over that curve and onto your couch.
Who would I even watch?
Fair question. Allow me to recommend three European leagues which are worth your American time and interest: The German League, the British League, and the League of Champions. All of these leagues are easily viewed, but more on that later.
The Bundesliga - The German League
Der Bundesliga is high-scoring action and packed full of Americans. As such, it’s an ideal Yankee starter pack. The German League scores more than any other in Europe with 3.2 goals per game on average, and I can attest that five goals per game is a normal occurrence. Remember Messi? Here’s Bundesliga’s best, making Messi look more like Sloppi.
The music is not dubbed over. It’s just what the Bundesliga sounds like.
That cool guy cleaning up the mess? He’s Alphonso Davies, and he’s a bad man. I mean that in a good way, of course. He’s not quite American, but he’s Canadian, which is regionally close, so America wins again. And hey, speaking of America, check out curls here.
As luck would have it, this charming young man is from Missouri. He’s only twenty years old! Do they even make them that young, still? This kid can’t even drink in the States, but he’s free to kick back Das Boot in Germany. Finding a professional loophole that allows you to drink underage? Well played, Sargent. Well played.
Seven Americans have started for their German clubs in the Bundesliga this year, most of them under the age of 21. The future is looking bright for American soccer, and it’s mostly happening in Germany. Mostly.
Just like college football, the Bundesliga is a high-scoring and often unpredictable affair featuring a talented group of young Americans. To further the analogy, stand-outs in the German league tend to graduate to higher paying leagues. I would never accuse Bayern Munich of being in a farmer’s league, but it is what it is. One such graduate of the German system is American soccer’s Latest Jedi: Christian Pulisic.
Until recently, Christian Pulisic played in the Bundesliga. Last year, the Great American Soccer Player from Hershey was snatched up by one of the English Premier League’s richest clubs, Chelsea. Check out this recent goal:
There’s a smile in every goal.
That’s an American kid, trained in the Bundesliga, ripping up one of Europe’s top leagues, the English Premier League. Which brings me to…
The English Premier League - The British League
Spaniards will certainly take issue with this, but The English Premier League (used interchangeably with “The Premier League") is the top European league, at least in terms of American ratings. That’s because the Premier League, much like its name suggests, is one of the most entertaining leagues to watch due to team owners’ deep, oily pockets. The money going through the English Premier League is legendary and worthy of an article all its own. Money, corrupt though it may be, buys talent. There are about eight teams in the Premier League that have plenty of money and talent to go around. Near every weekend you’re bound to find at least one high-level match up, and this year the race for the title is predictably unpredictable. Check out this gorgeous goalazo, which is becoming a weekly occurrence.
That is Harry Kane's teammate and friend Heung-Min Son, lovingly nicknamed Sonaldo. He is an elusive and rare South Korean tiger.
All that money and talent makes for consistently exciting soccer games. When you watch the Premier League, you’re guaranteed to watch some of the best. All the Ronaldos, Maradona (RIP), Zlatan, Beckham, and countless other greats built their legends in the Premier League. There’s a good chance Messi will spend his due time in the Kingdom too, though nothing is official. Curiously, if Messi does end up in Manchester, then
The best way to get into the Premier League is to mark your calendar for top teams: Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal. Die hard fans will take all sorts of issue with this list, but I don’t care. These teams, most seasons, and certainly this season, are the most entertaining to watch. If you spend time watching these clubs (interchangeable with “teams”), you have a much higher chance of seeing top quality soccer. If you see top quality soccer, you’ll start to appreciate how great it is. Let’s stay focused, people.
Remember, watching soccer is fun.
Watch a couple of these teams and you’ll start to see other, lesser-known teams that you may or may not like. Just like any other sport, you’ll come to know the back stories of players, teams, and fan bases. If you were educated in America like me, you’ll also learn quite a bit about English geography. It’s all quite enlightening innit, spot of tea?
Before I tell you how to watch the Premier league, there is one more European league you should know about. It is a tournament which pits the best teams from every European league against one another. It is the League of Champions, The Champions League.
The UEFA Champions League - The "Champions"
Theme clearly composed by God.
First disclaimer – this is more of a tournament than a league. Second disclaimer – you don’t have to be a Champion to play.
So, it’s a bit of a misnomer, but only during group staging. But when they reach the knock-out round, it is indeed a tournament of the best teams from every major league in Europe – Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and sometimes other countries, too, but mostly those. And even though there is an actual Club World Cup, the Champions League is the de facto Club World Cup. It’s even more accessible than the real World Cup because the Champions League happens every year as opposed to every four. And the games are thrilling! Take both semi-final matches from two years ago; this shit was crazy.
My dudes Hairy Cane and the South Korean tiger put their big boy boots on for that one. What's better than one British invasion? Two British invasions.
For context, Liverpool HAD to score four goals to avoid elimination. Against one of the best clubs of all time. 3-0 or 4-1 wouldn't of cut it - it HAD to be minimum 4-0. Incredible.
At this point, it’s worth noting that Messi, as Great as he is, has been getting slapped around at Barcelona for the past two years or so. Oh, well. Even The Greatest can’t escape his thirties.
It’s difficult to describe in American terms how epic the Champions League is. It’s like if you only took the best teams from elite leagues playing the same sport and pitted them against one another. Oh, wait! We already do that! It’s the same idea behind the College Football Playoffs (yuck). The Champions League is basically Alabama versus Clemson, every single game. The difference here is that the players are professionals and the leagues span country lines. Aside from being my favorite league to watch, it is also the league that first got me into watching European soccer. Champion for life, baby.
Messi vs Ronaldo, the definitive soccer rivalry of our generation, has occurred six times in the Champions League, including a recent December match. I planned my day around the game because every time they play it is a piece of soccer history. Game Summary – Ronaldo Re-organizes Messi.
(Intriguingly enough, Ronaldo’s recent win puts their all-time Champions League records against one another at 2W-2D-2L a piece. If that’s not begging for resolution…)
So, by now, you’re unquestionably sold on giving European soccer some of your time. Great news! But how do you do it? More great news, friend – watching European soccer has never been easier for Americans.
Where and when do I watch?
If you have a basic cable package, you can already watch most of the best European soccer. If you’re a millennial, you’re going to have to make the decision: either pay for a streaming service or become a pirate.
I am not recommending that anyone steal anything from anywhere at any time. I am here to report facts, and the truth is that websites exists where you can stream matches for free. Arg, Pirates Beware! These sites are allegedly super dangerous and can mess your life up. Resist their Siren Song!
If you plan to remain a law-abiding citizen, even more great news! Watching top European soccer isn’t that expensive. (Just kidding, all these services are way too expensive. It’s insane how much corporations expect us to spend on cable, more than 50% of which is just advertising. They are getting us to pay them to watch their ads! What a scam! But I digress.)
This season, you can easily watch four entertaining European soccer matches a week. Allow me to show you how.
The Bundesliga - ESPN+, Weekend Mornings
This is a recent disappointment, actually. The Bundesliga used to be more accessible on Fox Sports just last season. These days, you need to buy a mostly useless ESPN+ package to see anything. YoutubeTV will have some games, as will Sling Orange.
If you have a basic cable package, it’s even easier for you. The Bundesliga plays five days a week, but the best matches are Saturday and Sunday mornings, starting around 9 a.m. and noon E.T.
Even though the Bundesliga is, in one sense, the most accessible European league to the American viewer, it is also, in another sense, the least accessible European league to the American viewer. Life’s like that, sometimes. So, unless you already have some sort of ESPN+ package, I recommend you start with the Premier League instead.
The English Premier League - NBC, Saturday Mornings
The Premier League also has games other days of the week, but NBC usually only airs the Saturday matches. If you have cable, you may or may not have access to it because of your region. If you have YoutubeTV or Sling Blue, you will have access to Premier League mornings on NBC.
There are usually three games available, with starting times ranging from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. E.T. Trust me – watching British men exhaust themselves in short-shorts is way better than watching American teenagers in tight pants push one another around in the mud. This former is British, and therefore more refined.
The UEFA Champions League - CBS, Tuesday, Wednesday Afternoons*
*For the time being. As the tournament progresses, games will move to Saturday and Sunday.
Whereas the Bundesliga became more difficult to watch this year, The Champions League became gloriously easier. CBS All Access (soon to be Paramount+ because fuck originality) now has the television rights to the Champions and it only cost $6/month to watch. You could even wait until the final month of the tournament, sign up for a free month of All Access, and then cancel it before the month ends – but who would tell you to do that and who would stop you?
CBS isn't on Sling's color palette, but you should have full access with YoutubeTV. Ah, the age of streaming services- just the latest way to get jerked around by corporations. Isn’t it wonderful?
There you have it, the complete European soccer starter pack for the American. If you’re not sold on soccer yet, it’s probably because you’re too busy proving the election was stolen. If you’re like me, you’ll stop supporting American football and give your time to soccer. It’s just another way to resist, and a damn fun way to resist, too. Come to the sport that actually makes sense – soccer, the beautiful game, where you can watch men kick a ball with their feet.
For the uninitiated, let’s start with the chicken sandwich. God didn’t invent it; Truett S. Cathy did. He did so here, at a family diner he called “The Dwarf House”, some 70 (!) years ago. The chicken burger, as it was originally called, would be the standout menu item that eventually propelled Chick-Fil-A to the fast-food industry dominance that it enjoys today.
(So, yes: you can thank the Dwarf House for our current "chicken sandwich wars" and the masterpieces they’ve necessitated, mainly, The Oh So Delicious Popeye’s Chicken sandwich. But that isn’t the point of this article, though I’m not done with fried chicken yet.)
The Dwarf House still has several locations in the Atlanta area. As an Atlanta native, I am satiated to say I’ve visited several times and locations, although I moved away three years ago. True to the original Dwarf House, these restaurants are essentially dinner service style, full fold-out menu Chick-Fil-A restaurants. A hostess will walk you to your table, a server will get your drinks, and a busboy will clean your table. Of course, you could ask any Chick-Fil-A employee to perform these tasks for you, and I’m sure it would be their pleasure, but then you’d just be a real Chick-Fil-A-hole ™, wouldn’t you?
Look at these large, hand-held menus. If this doesn’t excite you, then you’re reading the wrong article.
These fancy large menus come with fancy specialty menu items, many of which Chick-Fil-A is considering putting on their national menu. That’s right, Chick-Fil-A Mac-n-Cheese has been around for a long time, I hate to break it to you, and us Atlantans have always known it’s delicious. Not only that, but sweet potato waffle fries also exist, and they’ll knock your Christian socks off.
I haven’t visited one of these fast-food Meccas in several years, so who knows what they are testing out these days. If you’re in the Atlanta area and you’re wondering if you should go try out the Dwarf House, my answer is an unequivocal yes. Yes! YES. Go to the full-service Chick-Fil-A restaurant, I mean once COVID’s over, but definitely do it after that.
If you are like most people in the world and do not live in the Atlanta area, then dream with me for a moment. What if Chick-Fil-A Dwarf Houses were not the only dinner service fast-food chains? We’ve seen something like this before. Taco Bell once opened its own hotel with a restaurant. In-N-Out, despite what its name may suggest, takes so long you might as well go to a full-service restaurant, or just travel to another state.
I have curated a list of Dwarf House style dinner service fast-food restaurants I want to see plus one potential menu item from each establishment. I have not changed the name of the fast-food restaurant to avoid confusion, though I do suggest a dinner service restaurant name at the end. Forget about whatever diet you thought you were on - simply reading this list is going to raise your cholesterol.
1. Taco Bell - Doritos Locos Nachos
Allow me to be upfront: this has already been done. Those Costa Ricans know what they are doing! But, unless you’re reading this in San José, Doritos Locos Nachos are just a fantasy to you and me. Unless, of course, you’re one of the thousands of people online who have done this at home already.
Still – tell me I’m wrong about this menu item. The Doritos Locos Tacos are already a universal hit, there is just no way this could go wrong. The nachos version would be great for sharing as an appetizer or for just gobbling up yourself, you big turkey!
Suggested Dinner Service Restaurant Name: La Casa De Dilla
2. Wendy's - French Fried Frosty
Amazing alliteration ain’t the only reason to adore this treat: it’s something that we all do already.
How would this look as a stand alone menu item? I see a chocolate or vanilla frosty mixed with crunchy fry bits, a la a cookies and cream milkshake. Then, you put French fries on top of it and either drink it through a hollowed out fry or eat it with a spoon made of potatoes. That idea alone is worth at least two Michelin stars. Served as an entrée or dessert.
Suggested Dinner Service Restaurant Name: Pigtails
3. Bojangles - Spicy Bo-Berry Chicken Biscuit
Yes, more fried chicken and YES, Bojangles isn’t a huge chain. Still, if there is one in your area, you can do this combination yourself.
From personal experience I can advise you not to ask an employee of Bojangles for a Bo-Berry biscuit with spicy fried chicken in it. You will confuse this person and force managers to get involved, the police of the fast-food world. Simply ask for a Bo-berry biscuit, ask for a spicy chicken biscuit without the biscuit, and put them together yourself. You'll save yourself time and frustration.
It is a salty and sweet mess reminiscent of a peanut butter and jelly on spicy steroids. It is the type of entrée that may send you in to a diabetic shock while giving you a heart attack, all at the same time. I don’t care if it does cost me a foot – this combination is delicious.
Suggested Dinner Service Restaurant Name: Anything but “Bojangles”
4. McDonald's - The McFuckBoi
Pardon the language, but that’s what this sandwich is called. Invented by and for teenager fuck bois in the greatest country on earth, this sandwich just screams “I have no culture”.
Order a Big Mac and a fried chicken sandwich. Remove the bread from the center of the Big Mac and replace with filet of fried chicken. Re-assemble the sandwich and there you have it: an early 2000s classic amongst stoned, suburban white kids, The McFuckBoi.
As a menu item, this must be an entrée. If they really want to do it right, they’ll serve it with a wet joint.
Suggested Dinner Service Restaurant Name: Donnie’s Irish McPub
5. Burger King - Burger Fries
Hear me out – there is a precedent for this idea. Chicken fries are a delicacy (and a natural aphrodisiac). Burger King is the KING of BURGERS. This should be a home run for them and I’m a little worried some exec is going to steal this idea from me.
They would be French cut patties of charbroiled Whopper meat and an undeniable appetizer. Some burger fries would have cheese, others, who knows? Yeah, you’ll get some greasy fingers, but so what? You’re the one sitting down at Burger King.
Suggested Dinner Service Restaurant Name: L’King du Burger
6. Subway - Cookie Bread
This is essentially what they are already doing anyway. But, beyond their questionable sugar bread and pedo-positive business model, Subway has a serious problem: all their food is shit.
All their food is shit, except for their surprisingly wonderful cookies. I have not bought a sandwich from this chain in years, but I do stop by for cookies on every road trip. They are always just right and oh so sweet. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the best thing at Subway is the most unabashedly unhealthy thing at Subway.
Here’s what I expect from Subway cookie bread: one-part delicious cookie, one-part diabetes-inducing sandwich bread. Essentially, make a cookie cake loaf with that bomb-ass macadamia nut recipe. It’s definitely a dessert you can lure the kids in with.
Suggested Dinner Service Restaurant Name: Fat Uncle J’s
7. Dunkin' - Blueberry Bacon Munchkins
I have a sweet tooth. I also have a salty tooth. Together, I have inevitable dental doom.
Salty and sweet things are the best. This idea, to me, just makes too much sense not to do it. They already do a donut sandwich; this is just the easier-to-eat version of it. Serve eight Blueberry Bacon Munchins in a basket with two sauces: one cinnamon frosting the other just coffee and BAM, that’s a hit. That’s an appetizer I’d eat right now.
Suggested Dinner Service Restaurant Name: Brunchkin’ Bronuts
8. Domino's - Pizza That Doesn't Suck
Suggested Dinner Service Restaurant Name: Pizza Hut
Thank you for dreaming with me. Hopefully, sometime soon, we’ll all sit down together at some over-priced shit hole and complain about the service (Where is that waiter anyway?).
I in no way encourage anyone to go out to eat during this third wave. I do encourage you to order take-out and support your local restaurants, fast-food and all.
If the restaurants don’t make it through this difficult period, then we’ll never live to see any of these Chick-Fil-A Dwarf House Style menu items realized, and that, my friends, would be a tragedy of national proportions.
The twenty-first century aughts were a crucial formative period for my psyche. From 2000-2010 I watched, learned, tried, failed, and mastered the art of being an American teenager. Many, perhaps too many, of my memories from that period revolve around a television screen. I came of age at a time when media was easier to consume than ever before. I consumed it accordingly.
Any pop culture sommelier will recall the aughts as an embarrassing time in American history. There was a media trend that occurred during those years that had an unexpectedly long-lasting effect on my life. It was the trend to romanticize high school football players on screen, both in film and television.
American football has a long history of being portrayed in cinema. The first films about football were shot as early as the 1920s. Famous films like “The Longest Yard” and “Rudy” set a precedent in the twentieth century for the popularity of football as a dramatic subject. But these films largely focused on college and professional football stars. And while it is true that without professionals there would be no amateurs (classic chicken or the egg scenario), as a teenager I was not interested in how professionals were portrayed on screen. I was interested in the pathos of how high school football players were portrayed.
As I research this subject now, it appears that depicting high school football in film is a relatively recent phenomenon. Specifically, there appears to be an increase in content focusing on high school football players starting near the turn of the century.
“Remember the Titans”, for a short period, was my entire personality. It was followed by films like “Radio”, “Friday Night Lights” and “The Blind Side”. Then, in 2006, a reality television show capitalized on the same trend these films had found. That show was “Two-A-Days”.
While I loved movies about high school football, “Two-A-Days” was a reality tv show about the subject being made at a time when I was actually in high school, making it the most relatable to me by far. It premiered at a time when the screen was all I knew about high school football because I attended a school that was too small to field a team. The only thing I knew of high school football was on MTV, and I loved it. My friends and I all wanted to play for Hoover High School.
These images were critical in the formation of my idea of what a high school football star should be. The actors in “Remember the Titans” are easily in their twenties and thirties, but I was watching them like “Why don't I look like that?”. “Two-A-Days” finally showed me kids that looked like me.
I do not know how the marketing people knew millennials would be suckers for teenagers in tight pants pushing one another in the rain, but boy did we eat it up in the aughts. This created a perfect storm of sorts in my personal life. In spring of 2007, a year after the premiere of “Two-A-Days”, my high school announced plans to have their very first football team. Based on everything I knew about high school football; it was clear what I had to do. It was time to suit up, score the touchdown, get the girl, and go to state.
I was not the only one trying organized football for the first time: we all were, coaches included. I remember within thirty minutes of the opening drill of the first practice we had to call an ambulance. Some kid dislocated his kneecap and couldn’t move. For whatever reason, I ignored my instincts to leave. This was just one of the dangers of the job.
Football, it is worth mentioning, is a physically exhausting thing to do. I spent the next few weeks catching my breath, vomiting, or both. We had our first scrimmage two months after our first practice. It would be in front our brand-new bleachers and under our shiny new lights. It was the MTV Friday night I had been waiting for.
Finally, just like I had seen it on screen, there would be fans cheering for us from the bleachers. All my media consumption had prepared me for the moment, and I was sure I knew what to do.
Except, I really didn’t know what to do. Like I mentioned earlier, football is hard. I started the game as a second-string wide receiver. I got a few routes in, but our quarterback was a fifteen-year-old kid whose heaviest-set features were freckles. He was barely qualified to hand the thing off, much less throw it. I finished the first half without any of my promised glory.
On the first play of the second half, our second string running back went down with an exploded spleen (seriously, these coaches no clue what they were doing). Ambulances were called, prayers were said, and the game soldiered on. There was no back-up plan for the back-up, so the coaches became desperate. They settled on my scrawny behind to be the next running back, presumably because I was the most available at the time.
Now this was the moment I was sure I had been waiting for. I got into the huddle, lined up, took the hand-off, charged straight ahead, and… smack. I got tackled, hard. There was a kid in the grade below me, David Bain, who was a nice enough guy but must have had some hormone issues because that boy was a man. He took the wind out of my sails several times that day.
The game drug on and both sides lost their energy accordingly. The fans began to wonder what they would be doing later when suddenly, sometime in the fourth quarter, something magical happened.
All I can remember is that I was really tired. And I mean like really, really tired. The red-headed QB told me I was going to run it outside. Certain I could not possibly survive running directly into David Bain again, I agreed to the plan. I took the ball, ran towards the sideline, and… shit. Here comes David Bain, again, leading with arms that are still hairier than mine.
That’s when it happened. It was like my guardian angel took control of my body and committed me to the physical equivalent of speaking in tongues. I pulled a move that can only be described as theatrical, and I no doubt got it from watching too many football movies.
I faked right and spun left. Neither me nor David Bain were sure of what had happened. I completed the spin and kept running, as shocked as anyone to still be on my feet. I imagined David Bain had turned into a pillar of salt behind me, but I was not going to slow down to find out. Veins full of fear, I ran for my life. And that’s when I finally had my movie moment.
I looked to my left and the entire bleachers were on their feet cheering. I held the ball out in front of my face and dropped it as I crossed in to the end zone. I did a stupid little dance with my teammates for celebration. It all happened, and I’m sure this part of my memory is infallible, in slow-motion. For the first time in my young life, I was the person I saw on the screen.
After the game, the coach announced that I was the new number two running back. My future as an American high school football star was looking bright.
And then, just as quickly as it had started, it was over. The very next day I stepped onto the practice field, tore my ACL, and never played football again. I have torn my ACL again, several times, but never playing football.
This was the end of my football narrative. Seemingly in step with my age, stories about high school football fell out of popularity as I got older. Most football movies these days place their focus on the professional, and perhaps that's a good thing. Knee surgeries notwithstanding, football is an incredibly dangerous sport which children should under no circumstances be encouraged to play. But still, for one brief, shining moment in the early 2000s, being a high school football player was cool. For one even briefer, even shinier moment in 2007, I got to be who I saw on tv, and that was even cooler.
This year has been one for staying inside and reading. I live in Los Angeles, a city that encouraged some of the tightest lockdown restrictions in the nation. This was encouragement I readily took, even if I didn’t quite know what it meant. Practically locked inside, I spent the first few weeks of quarantine giving in to existential dread for the future. Once I got past all that (have I though?), I thought this newfound “indoors-iness” would be an excellent time to finally read all my books. Sometime around early May, I endeavored to read through my library beginning with Leo Tolstoy’s classic “War and Peace”. Six months later, I’m two-thirds of my way through the first book and loving every page of it.
However, this isn’t a post about “War and Peace”. This is a post about empirical science. While I do enjoy savoring every word on the page, I did have the thought earlier this week: "is taking six months for read 1000 pages in a book like, really slow?" Not that I base my value on it, but I am curious.
I suppose my curiosity on this subject comes from the implication in my own mind that a slow reader is a thinly veiled synonym for a dunce. I have seen a great amount of evidence in my own life that I may in fact be a dunce, though I often ignore these and other red flags. But six months into an incredible book, I can ignore my questions no longer. Once and for all, through the power of at home science and faulty experimentation, I will determine if I am a slow reader or not.
You see, I can read faster, but I don’t think I appreciate the art of literature as much as I do by reading slowly. Taking my time on “War and Peace” was a conscious choice that I made early into the novel. I wanted not to feel pressure to read more than two chapters a day for five days a week in the interest of stamina. I worried that if I did not pace myself with such a dense text that I would burn out on it and ultimately become disinterested. This method, so far, has proven effective.
Once again, I love this book. I love it like I loved “Crime and Punishment” and most Russian literature that I read. But that’s not what this post is about. I want to know if I’m a slow reader or not.
I will make this judgement by timing myself reading six different texts including two speed reading tests, one article, one book, and two online short stories of different length. I will find my average reading speed from that information and compare it to what is widely known as good and acceptable on the internet. I will not know what is considered a good reading speed until I have completed all my time trials, which gives this experiment the illusion of featuring a double-blind.
PRELIMINARY SPEED TEST: WHAT'S MY BASELINE?
What did people do before Google? I click on the first link that the search “reading speed” yields because I trust Google’s algorithms.
The text, as you can see, contains hints of information that I do not want to know, yet. However, it didn’t go so far as to fully reveal the answer I seek. Still, I read this text strangely. I comprehended every word but tried to forget it immediately just in case it contained some vital information. I read the passage quickly with a medium amount of understanding. I read at a pace of 317 words per minute.
The first official text will be leisure reading.
TEXT 1: LEISURE, PRINT
This part of the experiment will be the least scientific of them all. While all my other reading will be done with a definite word count on a computer, this one will just be my beloved “War and Peace”. I will read and time one chapter and use the known average words per page to estimate my words per minute. My goal here is not to speed read. It is, in fact, to read as I normally do.
The chapter is approximately 3.5 pages long. Now, this part is very rough, but the average word per page in print is 250-300 words, so I’ll judge this one at 275 words per page. Therefore, time is all I need to solve for to find out how many words per minutes I will leisurely read 963 words at, approximately. The answer:
Approximately 8.53 minutes. So, approximately 963 words divided by approximately 8.53 minutes equals approximately 113 words per minute, approximately. Significantly lower than my former score, yes, but I also think it more accurate. There is an argument to be made that reading on the page versus screen affects your speed, but we’ll get into that later. For now, we’ll just jump to the screen for text 2.
TEXT 2: LEISURE, SCREEN
The rest of the texts will be on computer for several reasons. One, I probably do most of my reading on a screen. Two, it’s easier to calculate words per minute. Three, I was planning on reading things on the internet today, anyway.
First up will be an article. When I’m looking for distraction, I typically go to Deadspin, The Ringer, The Takeout, or similar sites. Today, I have selected this article from Deadspin about the NBA, another one of my favorite subjects. This is a leisurely screen text.
These 601 words took me a hair under two minutes to read, resulting in a pace of approximately 300 words per minute. Could it be that reading on the screen is inherently easier than reading in print? Or is it that short, relatively shallow pieces are just easier to digest than Russian literature? I believe both factors to be in play, but I will explore that more later. For now, I will read something longer on the screen.
TEXT 3: LONG, SCREEN
I turn to Reddit and, more specifically, /r/shortstories for more text. Short fiction, for the purposes of this investigation, can mean anywhere from 500-6000 words, so I’ll read from both ends of the spectrum. While I do hope to enjoy these short stories, I am also looking at them with a critical eye, which could slow my reading. I start with a science-fiction story because it is a genre that I love, and I think that will increase my words per minute.
Special thanks to u/ToxyWoxy for that story, which served its purpose. You can read it here, although, and this is not throwing shade, I wouldn’t recommend it. At 5989 words, it was a difficult read for me to stay focused on. I clocked in at approximately 19.33 minutes, giving me a words per minute of approximately 309. This number is a surprise to me because I expected it to be much lower. Even though I trudged through this text, I did understand it, and I still maintained a high words per minute. Perhaps the screen reading is an important factor. Now, for an actually short story.
TEXT 4: SHORT, SCREEN
My next sample is a humorous short which can be found here.
These 534 words, genuinely humorous as they were, took me 1.75 minutes to read at approximately 305 words per minute. It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems like reading on a screen is faster than reading print. A different reading test for my final score will give me all the information I need.
In the interest of appearing unbiased, I did my second speed test with a different website, found here. It was the third option Google presented me with, and I could not tell you why I selected it over the second option.
Not bad, right? Right? Seriously, I still do not know because I have not looked into it yet. There is still one thing left to do.
Pictures are worth a thousand words. So, here’s a couple grand, for ya:
And another one:
And, in the interest of useless graphs, one more:
Boy, math is exhausting. But what does it all mean? How does this answer my question? I turn again to the internet to find out.
According to this article, the average adult reads at 200-250 wpm, which I am happy to report my overall average falls just slightly above. The author also makes mention of the difference that can be made between reading print, screen, cell phone, etc.…, but gave no definite insights on these differences. My own results seem to support the general idea that there is a difference in reading speed depending on the source.
The site that I used for my preliminary test has some useful information as well. According to their charts, my overall average reading speed is considered slightly above average, but not quite good. However, this average results from a text reading speed that is barely above “insufficient” and three screen reading speeds that are considered “good”. So, I take my own numbers with a grain of salt. According to this site, reading speed should slow down about 25% from paper to screen, meaning that I should read print faster. I doubt the validity of these results, however, because the source looks old. I, without looking any further into it, theorize that this study was done with participants who are more used to reading print than screen, whereas just the opposite may be true for someone my age.
When I compare my results to the known data, the answers I seek take shape.
My overall reading speed is either incredibly slow or incredibly slightly above average, depending on what I am reading. Some results also seem to suggest that I am putting too much importance on how print effects my speed. It may just be that I read “War and Peace” slower than anything else because it is the most difficult thing that I read. It does require a more concentrated effort from me, which may be the biggest factor in my low words per minute score for leisure reading.
When I am reading on a screen, I read faster. This was shown to be true with long and short fiction in addition to easy and difficult reading. On a screen, I read faster than the average sloth, but not by much. Overall, I would rate my reading prowess as average to slightly above average because my glass always appears to be half full.
So, am I a slow reader? When it comes to my leisure time, the answer is clear.
Yes, I am reading “War and Peace” at a woefully snailful pace; a pace that is, by one website’s estimate, nearly “insufficient”. However, and this is ignoring a lot of evidence to the contrary, this does not mean that I am a dunce. “War and Peace” is just hard to read, that’s all. Overall, I read at a slightly higher than average speed. Now that’s an achievement I can hang my mask on.
It is hard to remember a time without Youtube. Ever since I’ve had smartphone, there’s been a Youtube app on it hooked up to my Google account. It has been a constant in my life for a long time and something I turn to for entertainment often.
Youtube has changed over the years, but one thing that hasn’t left is the ‘Watch Later’ folder. I discovered this feature sometime around 2013 and was immediately hooked. It is too easy to say “Oh, that looks interesting. I’d like to learn more, but not right now. I’m a thoughtful guy, though… I’ll save that for later.” Like any tool for procrastination, the ‘Watch Later’ folder can be abused. And abused it, I have.
Over the years, I have saved hundreds if not thousands of videos to the ‘Watch Later’ folder, ne’er to be seen again. For years, I’d lay in bed and just let them play, regardless of if I was watching or not. The warmth of the screen would help lull me into a deep if not fitful sleep. This was a habit that I kept for most of my twenties. At some point, I made the mistake of wanting to clean out my ‘Watch Later’ folder, as if you could de-junkify a junk drawer. In doing so, I deleted all the videos that had been marked as “watched” even though most of them had been “watched” in my sleep. What a terrible waste.
That brings me to today. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but it has been a lifestyle altering year for many of us. I spent much more time on a couch this year than expected and ran out of ways to fill my free time months ago. I once again feel the urge to clean out an uncleanable drawer.
There are 68 videos left on this list. Most of them are somewhere between 12-18 minutes long, which is likely why they are still unwatched. I know it’s not as intimidating as the hundreds of pointless videos that used to populate this list… to be honest, when I sat down to do this, I was quite sure that I had 462 unwatched videos. But that is no reason to quit! I set aside this time to do this write-up and, by Jove, I’m going to do it! With the power of my new Chromecast (thank you Amazon overlords for Prime Day) I will watch my videos and record my thoughts on this sunny Sunday morning. I’ll even open a nearby window for fresh air.
Here are the rules: I have to watch everything. No matter what. Do you remember that scene from Matilda where the plus-size kid is forced to eat that entire chocolate-so-brown-it-might-be-moldy cake? I’m doing the audio-visual equivalent of that.
Side note: I did add all of the most recent SNL skits to the list before I began. What do you want from me? John Mulaney was hosting. John Mulaney is hilarious.
At three hours into the project, it was becoming clear that I had not properly trained for a marathon like this. It was pure hubris to think that I could just up and sit down to watch videos all day like I was young again without any warm-up. My adult sense of inadequacy brought with it a hyperactivity that could not be contained, even on this laziest of Sundays. Still, I set out with a goal in mind, and I wanted to accomplish it. I took a break to prepare a large and greasy breakfast with a side of pancakes. This hefty meal plus a cup of chamomile helped me re-fuel and get back on my ass.
I reached hour six and found myself to be truly exhausted from so much do-nothingness. On top of the lethargy I was going insane with the prospect of never escaping this Youtube hole which I had dug for myself. In a last-ditch effort to save myself, I broke my only rule and began to look ahead to delete any videos that I just couldn’t deal with. Why would I save so many Ted Talks on theoretical physics? There is a reason those videos will forever remain unwatched.
Seven hours in and I am sure that I am dying. There’s about one hour left. The videos are getting so bad and… so… irrelevant to my current life… must… go… on…
As I watched my final few videos, I began to think about the Japanese concept of tsundoku. Tsundoku is difficult to translate into English, but it essentially describes the act of letting books pile up on the shelf without reading them. At a certain point, the books just become about show, and not about actually enjoying the book and accessing its secrets. Tsundoku, to me, describes a sort of gluttony of knowledge, resulting in a waste. I cannot help but feel that I have committed tsundoku with my ‘Watch Later’ playlist.
It is a silly thing to do, to burden yourself with so many things to ‘Watch Later’. If I don’t have the time or interest to watch this video now, is it really worth saving? Some of them were interesting, to be sure, but mostly these videos have only served as another distraction in a long list of things I’ve done to waste time. Then again, isn’t that part of what Youtube is for?
This experience has forever changed my Youtube viewing habits. Like the boy who ate too much cake in Matilda, this lesson in over-indulgence has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Too bad they discontinued the Whopperito.
Enter 2011. I’ve just begun college in a new city. Collegiately speaking, I’m a late bloomer so I’m able to house myself off-campus with some friends of a friend. That goes to say, as a freshman I did not have your typical dorm room experience. My early college days were spent largely alone. I got out and met people plenty, but I also spent a lot of time by myself. That was okay with me. I was living in the hey-day of “Netflix and chill”, even if it were just by yourself. I was always looking for a show to binge because that was the cool thing to do. We had no clue then, of course, about how quickly binging melts your brain. It was like the golden age of cigarettes back before they knew they could kill you.
As any experienced binger knows, you can’t just finish one series and not have another to start on. Then you would, what?, go outside or something? Fuck that. I had already consumed the most popular menu items of the day (I think I had just finished How I Met Your Mother) and I was looking for something new, something unique. That’s when it happened: a moment that changed my life forever. Even back then, Netflix’s algorithms were able to mine some gold. I followed a weird, animated little rectangle called The Venture Bros. and I haven’t stopped following it since.
I didn’t love Team Venture right off the bat, but I couldn’t stop watching it. It was niche. It was nostalgic. It was crude. Its references were obscure and made me Google things. It was… holy shit, did Brock just die while choking that henchman? Over-the-top fight scenes and blown-up sci-fi tropes kept me interested. I binged the first season in two evenings. It was the greatest television show I had ever seen, but I had no clue at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was good but I didn’t realize how good it was yet. Truth be told, I don’t think the creators did either. When the titular brothers died at the end of season one (spoilz!), I knew I was hooked.
If I could, I would erase all my memories of The Venture Bros. just so I could go back and re-experience the magic again with new eyes. I yearn for my Venture Virginity. I cannot recreate the feeling of excitement brought on by that incredible fight scene music. I cannot recreate the giddiness of watching Brock go on yet another bloody murder spree. I cannot recreate the supreme feeling of peace when a storyline that started four seasons ago finally makes sense. I cannot recreate all the things that The Venture Bros. made me feel. I cannot recreate all the ways it inspired me.
I learned to wait patiently for each new season and to savor each new episode as a gift to be treasured. I wondered how long the creators could keep this up, and, deep in my heart, knew this day would come eventually.
Enter 2020. Two years after the release of their latest chapter, the much-heralded but seldom viewed Hannah-Barbera, Marvel, and DC parody, all wrapped up into one, was finally cancelled. This year was going so well up until that point. I just couldn’t believe it.
In all seriousness, the cancellation made a lot of sense. Publick and Hammer already had trouble getting the show out in a timely manner during non-planetary crisis years. The Venture Bros., as beautiful as it was, was not meant for this world.
I feel a bit like the widow who shows up the funeral with a hot young date. I wouldn’t have been fooling around if The Venture Bros. had just paid more attention to me! But I digress… I wouldn’t call it cheating, but shortly before the Venture gang got the boot, I found a TV series that had already started to fill the Venture-shaped hole in my heart. It’s called Harley Quinn and there are two seasons out on HBOMax. I’m sure anyone reading this likely already knows about its existence but amuse me, if you will, as I draw some parallels between the two shows.
In a sense, HQ is essentially a Venture rip-off, and I mean that as the highest praise. They got everything right that Team Venture got right – the sarcastic tone, the bureaucracy of evil, the pettiness of super-egos, the fun of animated hyperviolence – Harley Quinn has it all. The main difference between the two is that HQ actually has the rights to the DC properties that The Venture Bros. parodied. While it is fun to see real life (did I really just say real life?) super heroes like Batman and Superman treated in an openly mocking way, they don’t quite have that vicious ironic touch that a Captain Sunshine or Crusaders Action League had. Part of the freedom of The Venture Bros. was that it created new characters in making fun of the old ones. HQ does not suffer for being bound by its already established universe, it’s just a little different, you know? However, just like The Venture Bros., the villains are way more fun than the good guys. And who has a better rogue’s gallery than DC? Only The Venture Bros.
At only two seasons in, Harley Quinn is showing a level of interdependence and continuity between episodes that it took The Venture Bros. three to four seasons to master. If only for its infancy, the interdependence of the HQ-niverse has not quite reached Venture status yet. However, as stated, not even The Venture Bros. had reached true Venture status by the end of their second season. The Venture Bros. was just “pretty good” until seasons three and four, where it crossed the line into “objective greatness”. The first two seasons of Harley Quinn are even stronger than the first couple seasons of Team Venture, and with young, hilarious voice talent, a huge roster of characters to pull from, a (presumably) much faster Korean art team, and a huge HBO bankroll, the sky is truly the limit for Harley Quinn.
Nothing will ever be able to fully replace our beloved The Venture Bros. Every evening, before I get into my learning pod, I pray to white Jesus for a Team Venture movie or at least one more episode. There are still so many story lines to finish… sigh. I can’t let myself go there again. I must be strong. Finish the opinion piece, damnit!
Oh, wait, never mind… that’s it. What’s more appropriate for a piece on The Venture Bros. than for it to end abruptly? Go Team Venture!