Ayelet Waldman: What I Read

The novelist shares her favorite sites and her hilarious method to avoid procrastination

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How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? What sources can't they live without? To find out, we regularly reach out to well-informed people to learn more about their media diets. The following comes from a conversation with Ayelet Waldman, author of multiple novels including Red Hook Road and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, later made into the movie The Other Woman with Natalie Portman. Waldman has also authored Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor CalamitiesOccasional Moments of Grace, as well as the Mommy-Track Mysteries and numerous articles.

First thing I do when I get up in the morning is I read The New York Times, the actual paper. Every time I read it I think "why am I reading this? This news is two days old. I read this online last night." But nonetheless I read it because I've been reading it since I was young and somehow still, even though I'm aged and decrepit, it makes me feel like an adult to read The New York Times. Then I read the comics in the San Francisco Chronicle. I used to read the comics and the TV column by Tim Goodman but he moved over to The Hollywood Reporter I believe, so the only thing I read in the San Francisco Chronicle is the comics. The only thing anyone in this house reads in the San Francisco Chronicle is the comics. We get the paper every day so that we can read Family Circus--it's a crime. And then, when I'm done with that, I go online, and after I go through my email and my Twitter feed I check Andrew Sullivan, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Jezebel.

I listen to NPR whenever I'm in the car, but only in the car. I almost never listen to music in the car. When I drive carpool I listen to Morning Edition as soon as my kids get out--they won't tolerate it. They say it depresses them.
While I'm working I put Freedom on [a program that turns off a computer's Internet access for a set amount of time] so I can't actually check in online because otherwise I would check my email every 13 seconds. So I put Freedom on for 120 minutes and as soon as my "freedom" clicks off I do the rounds, check my email, my Twitter feed, Facebook, see what else they posted on Jezebel, see what Andrew Sullivan's saying, look at Ta-Nehisi Coates, look at Talking Points Memo. It depends on how badly I want to procrastinate. If I'm full of self-loathing and despair and I cannot work, I'll add Gawker, and, if I really feel like killing myself, The Huffington Post--although I've stopped bothering with Huffington Post because I object to it on principle.
I've also had this amazing experience on Twitter that someday I'm going to write an article about. I have something like 5,000 Twitter followers. I have a huge mouth and I'm very, very liberal, and over the years there have been conservative commentators who have enjoyed taking potshots at me--and I'm an easy target, because I'll say ridiculous things. So, for example, John Podhoretz used to love to love to say terrible things about me. We got involved on Twitter in what started out as a snide back-and-forth and actually developed into a somewhat fond relationship. I disagree with almost everything the man says about politics, but I actually enjoy my communication with him.
It's gotten so on days where I can't work, or I'm just procrastinating--and I know it's a bad day if I'm on a site looking at ugly dresses worn by celebrities--I will go and I'll say to John Podhoretz, "okay, name your favorite charity, and if I don't get a thousand words today I'll donate a hundred bucks." And he gleefully complies. Sometimes it's Sarah Palin's PAC or sometimes it's some crazed right-wing West Bank settlers. I once stayed up till eleven o'clock because I had sworn to write two thousand words and if I didn't finish them I was going to have to give Sarah Palin's PAC a hundred and fifty bucks and there just was no way I was going to do that. How could that have ever happened in real life? It never could have. That is purely a new media phenomenon. And I think he enjoys it, too. Worst-case scenario: he has a good time. Best-case scenario: some truly evil charity that he's fond of gets a hundred bucks.
Because most of the people I know have children, my day-to-day relationships beyond the confines of my family are almost exclusively confined to the ether, including my closest friends in Berkeley, with whom I email and text far more than I see them. How sad is that? I say it now and feel so sad.
While I'm working I listen to minimalist classical music pretty much exclusively. Steve Reich is my favorite. There's a piece called "Music for 18 Musicians" that I will always listen to when I'm stuck on something. I find it very propulsive, so it keeps me working, it keeps me moving, and now I almost think it's a form of self-hypnosis; I have written so much to that music so that it's like a physical prep--when I put that music on I'll start to write. Reich my favorite, for sure, but I also listen to Philip Glass, some Terry Riley.
I read The New Yorker, always. I think my mailman steals my New Yorker and reads it and gives it to me when he's done. I get my New Yorker a week late all the time. So, though I subscribe, usually I have read it on my iPad by the time it arrives. I used to try to read it on their website but they have the worst website on the planet. So I read it on my iPad and sometimes there are a couple articles I save to read when the paper version comes in. I read The New York Review of Books, also the paper version, at night in bed, although again, more and more I'm finding myself reading that online and on my iPad.
I usually watch some television before I go to bed. Sometimes I'll watch a movie. Michael [Chabon, her husband] and I are working on an HBO pilot set during World War II, so for a while I was watching all sorts of different World War II movies. But generally I go to bed by myself because my husband wants to work at night. So I watch terrible, mindless television for an hour. I mean really, really embarrassing stuff. Top Chef is maybe not so embarrassing. Also Game of Thrones, which we, in our house, call Game of Moans, because of the frequency of gratuitous sex scenes (that are, you know, wildly entertaining). Lately, I've watched the entire season of Bethenny Ever After. That's about as low as I've sunk. I loved every minute of it. Every. Damn. Minute of it.

There are certain shows that I'm not humiliated to admit to in print--like I am about Bethenny Ever After (but I'll own it). I watch Modern Family, I watch 30 Rock, I periodically watch a PBS show, like when they had Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs. I think that's basically it. I've never succeeded in getting into any others. I've sort of protected that because otherwise I would watch TV all night long. I try to limit TV to about an hour and then I read every night--sometimes The New York Review of Books or The New Yorker, but only for about an hour or so. I read fiction every night for at least two hours before going to sleep. For some reason, I don't let myself read fiction during the day because that feels like cheating. Wasting my time on Gawker is not cheating because the physical experience of web surfing looks like work. Even though it would be so much better for both my mind and my work life if I would just take a book and lie on the couch and read, I never do that. So I always read at night for a couple hours. The most recent book that I've read that I just adored was The Free World, by David Bezmozgis. It was just a world I had never even thought about. Who knew that all these Russians were stuck in Italy in the 1970s trying to get to America? It's fabulous.

There's so much, you know. I only have one rule when it comes to fiction: I don't read writers that are worse than me. And that leaves so much to read. I'll never run out of books. For a fiction writer, that can be the most depressing thing to contemplate. You go to the new fiction table and you just want to kill yourself. You've never heard of any of these books, they all look great, and how is anyone going to come across my novel in this sea of fiction that's being generated? But as a reader it's just such an awesome thought: you'll never run out of books to read.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.