Susan Orlean: What I Read

The New Yorker staff writer explains her Media Diet

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How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? Do they have some secret? Perhaps. We are asking various friends and colleagues who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from a conversation with Susan Orlean, a staff writer at the New Yorker and author of seven books.

I have sort of funny reading habits that are part circumstantial and part sociological. Forever and ever and ever, I had been a New York Times home subscriber. My day would always begin, even before coffee, with reading the Times. I now live in the countryside about an hour and a half north of New York City and unfortunately I'm not in home delivery range. My world began to change radically and, reluctantly, I began shifting to reading the paper online. I went way to the other end of the spectrum. So what I do first thing when I wake up now is grab my iPhone and read the Times on it. My husband gets the Wall Street Journal in print, so we read that as well, but mostly I'm reading stuff on my phone.

Still in bed, I'll go to several different aggregators--something called Fluent News, and the Huffington Post--and then I check my Twitter account. I follow a bunch of news accounts on Twitter, like @BreakingNews and a bunch of New York Times and Huffington Post things, as well as some reporters I like a lot: @markknoller, @carr2n (David Carr), @brianstelter. I follow a bunch of media and publishing people, including ones that are a bit depressing, like @themediaisdying. I follow Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago), and @mashable, and @anamariecox. For travel links, I follow the woman who's the chief researcher for National Geographic, Marilyn Terrell (@marilyn_res). Sometimes I worry that there are two sources of news in the world and we're all just recycling and recycling in different forms, which is kind of scary to me.

I started using Twitter maybe two years ago, with no intention of finding it the least bit interesting. My assistant, who is much younger than me and very groovy, told me I should have a Twitter account. I said, "A what account?" It really isn't that easy to understand in the beginning, but now it's become a tendril of my writing persona. It's so interesting and so different from the writing I do for the magazine. I didn't expect to enjoy it, but I do.

I have not, however, developed a taste for blogs. I would say that I'm exposed to them mainly through people linking on Twitter, and now that I've just agreed to write a blog for the New Yorker, I feel that I should familiarize myself with the format. For a while I was reading some design blogs, but to me that was kind of like shopping--I enjoyed it, but I would hardly describe it as reading.

So anyway, after I get out of bed I turn on NPR, which I listen to very religiously in the morning while I'm having breakfast, getting dressed, driving my son to school. From that I also get a lot of local news. I used to get a couple local papers--they're important resources for news up here--but unfortunately they have all closed. When you live in a rural area or small town, there is a massive loss of communication, in a very different way than if you're living in a city.

Usually sometime around midday, I'll actually go to the Times website on my computer, which is much more thorough. By then the Wall Street Journal has shown up, as well as a couple of magazines, which I sort of hoard. We get the New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's, the Economist, Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, BusinessWeek, Esquire, Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living, which are my girly reads, and some local magazines. That's probably a good sample. I just try not to start reading a magazine in the middle of the day or I'm not going to get any work done.

When I'm out and about, my phone has become the equivalent of carrying a magazine around. I feel lost if I don't have something to read. I'm someone who will read cereal boxes. I also read books on my iPhone, with a Kindle app. The first Kindle book I read on my phone was Madame Bovary. And it worked! The format doesn't bother me.

I read every night in bed for about an hour. I read a lot of fiction and I always have at least one book going. Right now I'm reading In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin--I've read it before but I'm teaching it this semester at NYU--and Mary Karr's Cherry. I just finished Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout.

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