Associate Editor Leila Emery shares what she has been reading, moving beyond the bedside table to include her full-fledged media diet.
A recent series of articles on The Atlantic Wire has explored the following question: How do we deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? It is, indeed, a relevant and important question for the times we live in. As lovers of words, we are fortunate to be able to digest mass media however and whenever we so choose, which, for many of us, is an utterly thrilling prospect. What I love most about the Atlantic series, however, is that it obliges us to look at “what we read” as including not just the books on our bedsides tables, but also the articles and blog posts we read online, and the newspapers and magazines we subscribe to at home — in essence, the notion of reading as a full-fledged “media diet.”
Although I like to reserve Facebook largely for keeping in contact with friends and family, I also enjoy using it to help satiate my mass media appetite. In fact, the majority of my news consumption takes place on Facebook these days, due at least in part to the fact that I no longer have cable TV at home. For instance, I’d love to turn on BBC News to find out what’s happening in the world, but since that’s no longer an option, Facebook affords me the luxury of reading the latest news headlines from any number of media outlets — including the BBC — at any given time of day or night. Furthermore, since I have several jobs and a different schedule each day, the ability to scan my Facebook homepage for news in short bursts is extremely convenient.
For classification purposes, I have sorted my Facebook-based media diet into three main groups. The first group covers online news outlets and blogs, such as The New York Times, Mother Jones, Al Jazeera English, NPR, The Huffington Post, AMERICAblog, The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, Women’s Media Center, ProPublica, and The Rachel Maddow Show, to name just a few. And yes, “it’s preaching to the choir,” as writer Anna Quindlen puts it, “but as members of that choir, we like being preached to.” Next come the pages that I read for work-related (i.e. having to do with writing, teaching, or both) goings-on: Open Letters Monthly, Mediabistro.com, National Council of Teachers of English, Poets Online, Submishmash, National Writing Project, VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and Poetry Foundation and Poetry Magazine. Finally, a related group of pages falls into the literary journal category, including The Massachusetts Review, The Gettysburg Review, Barrelhouse, North Carolina Literary Review, Lines + Stars, Melusine, Creative Nonfiction, and, of course, The Potomac Review.
With regard to newspapers, I have a subscription to The New York Times online, which allows me to get email updates on particular areas of interest, including breaking news. The personalized nature of an online subscription allows me to read the news I want, when I want, which, with my often unpredictable schedule, is very satisfying. As someone who sees real value in print media and relishes the tactile experience of reading, however, I do not buy into the notion that the print newspaper is dead. I used to feel guilty that I don’t read the newspaper on a daily basis, but the fact is that if I have any time to sit down and read the actual print edition, it’s on the weekend. I subscribe to the Washington Post’s Sunday edition, largely for the Washington Post Magazine and the “Sunday Style” section. I love long, leisurely breakfasts with the Post, with few — if any — interruptions, and the ability to read a quality print source in any order I so choose, while still wearing my pj’s.
But at the end of the day, I look forward to reading books most of all. A colleague of mine is constantly extolling the virtues of the Kindle, because to him, even as an English professor, “books are on their way out.” While I cringe at such an indictment (especially from an academic), e-readers like the Kindle are pretty amazing devices, though I have no plans to buy one in the near future. Like the newspaper, I love the feel of a book in my hands: I can write in it, bend pages to mark my place, and even start at the end if so inclined.
In recent years, I have significantly curbed my book-buying compulsion (which was no small feat), and now try to limit myself to purchasing only those books that fall into specific categories: 1) books (new or old) by favorite writers; 2) books not necessarily by favorite writers, but which I have already read and thoroughly enjoyed; or 3) books purchased at literary conferences or festivals where I am able to acquire the author’s autograph. (Concerning the latter, I was lucky enough to have Thomas Friedman — New York Times contributor and quite possibly my favorite journalist of all time — to sign several books at the National Book Festival several years ago; I now cherish those books as prized possessions. Similarly, at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference, I jumped at the chance to have acclaimed Iranian writer Azar Nafisi sign my well-worn copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran). Most of the time, though, I either read books from my own personal library or borrow books from the public library. The Montgomery County Public Library System is extensive, to say the least, and they have an excellent online “hold” system which allows me to be on a waiting list for new or in-demand books. Once the book is available, I am notified by email. Ahhh, the wonders of technology!
Recent treasures on my bedside table have included fiction by Emma Donoghue (Room), Cate Kennedy (The World Beneath), and Hans Keilson (Comedy in a Minor Key); non-fiction by Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff: A Vision for Change), Anne Burt et al (About Face: What Women Writers See When They Look in the Mirror), and Vali Nasr (The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future); poetry by Margaret Atwood (Morning in the Burned House), Juan Gelman (Between Words) and Martin Espada (The Republic of Poetry); and memoirs by Susanna Sonnenburg (Her Last Death), Marya Hornbacher (Madness), and Jennifer Finney Boylan (I’m Looking Through You). I live to binge on books, and I look forward with gusto to reading at bedtime. For that alone, I can’t envision myself ever trading hardbacks for their digital counterparts.
Keeping in mind the question posed by The Atlantic Wire series, we as media consumers must also ask a subsequent question: How do we keep ourselves from overindulging? Exciting as it is, the sheer volume of mass media options can be overwhelming, and when we then factor in the variety of reading/viewing mechanisms, it can sometimes feel like sensory overload. So, what can one do to decompress? For me, the answer is found just shy of midnight, once I turn off the TV, power down the laptop, and shut off the smartphone. Having left the option-laden digital landscape behind for the night, I embrace the most appealing option of all: save the turning of pages or the occasional delighted sigh at an apt turn of phrase, I choose the sublime silence of a reader and her book.