Terry McMillan: What I Read

The novelist 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 journalists who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from an exchange with Terry McMillan, author of Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back, among other novels.

I try not to read anything when I first wake up in the morning because it’s when I write, and I don’t want to start my day with bad news unless I create it myself. After making coffee, though, I’ll walk out in my PJs to pick up the paper—I subscribe to the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, and the Sunday New York Times. I like USA Today, I won’t lie. I’ll take the rubber band off it and peek at the upper right-hand corner.

After I get my first bout of writing done, I usually go out for a little walk or jog. I have to change gears. If I just finish writing about someone having a baby and I open up and read about an 8.9 earthquake in Haiti… I need to transition.

I’m afraid of headlines, so I start out slowly. I open CNN, my homepage, and scroll down to see how many catastrophes have occurred since yesterday. I skip to Politics, Entertainment, Living, and then Travel! I love to take those polls.

If the CNN headlines are about something controversial, which of course they often are, I’ll jump to the Huffington Post, then The Daily Beast and NPR (I love Terry Gross), and sometimes Daily Kos. I also check my email, where I get Washington Post and New York Times news alerts twice a day. I save the best for last: Salon. I love Joan Walsh, and Salon’s writing has a civilized and humane bent, which I appreciate.

What I really love to read, though, are the comments. On the Huffington Post and CNN—oh my God. I am probably a little more obsessed with the comments than with the actual pieces because I can tell a lot from the comments about who’s who—it’s like my own little sociological study.

I used to subscribe to the New Yorker, Time and Newsweek. Those were the good old days. I couldn’t keep up, so now I just buy them when I’m inclined. I’m on information overload, so I try not to take in more than I can process—I just want to be well-informed.  A lot of this information I can’t do anything about and a lot of news pisses me off, which is why I watch stupid stuff on TV and read silly magazines. I watch Entertainment Tonight and The Insider. I have to be able to lighten up or I’d just be depressed.

I do not commute, thank God, but sometimes I wish I did because you can get a lot of reading done, at least on a train. I do listen to NPR in my car, driving around. Sometimes I find myself sitting in the parking lot at the grocery store waiting for a program to end. I have an iPhone, but I don’t carry it with me everywhere I go and very few people have the number.

I just started tweeting and Facebooking about a month ago. I’ve gotten addicted to Twitter. I like being able to spout-off or vent or say what’s on my mind as well as hearing what’s on others’. I don’t follow very many people, just those whose opinions I respect. I’m not crazy about Facebook, but I’m on it because I was told I should be on it. I like my fan page because they’re warm and really admire and respect what I do.

At night, I almost always watch MSNBC. I love Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. I also watch the local news and Letterman and Leno’s monologues because they crack me up. It’s a nice way to wind down. I then fall asleep with a book next to me, and often a magazine or two as well.

I try to read one novel at a time because it’s too much like channel surfing otherwise, and not fair to the writer. If I’m not loving the book 50 pages in, I’ll put it down and start reading something else. I recently finished and loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer. I’m starting Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and then The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, by Heidi W. Durrow. I’m also reading short stories by Jean Thompson called Do Not Deny Me and The Best American Short Stories 2009, edited by Alice Sebold. Short stories are easier to read when I’m writing a novel, which I’m just about to dive into.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.