Sasha Frere-Jones: What I Read

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How do people deal with the torrent of information pouring down on us all? What sources can't they live without? We regularly reach out to prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts and the literary world, to hear their answers. This is drawn from a conversation with Sasha Frere-Jones, staff writer and pop-music critic at The New Yorker, who loves Instapaper but believes in printing things out, and wants to start an Edith Wharton book club.

I enjoy the Twitter. There are a lot of things it does. Aside from the entertainment and amusement on Twitter, I take in weird things and find links to things that make my life easier. Twitter replaced my RSS with a curated feed (that's the worst word ever). But with Google Reader or NetNewsWire, which was what I was using before, I was constantly confronted with articles I didn't want to read. On Twitter you find who you trust and admire, and boom, you've got a hit, that's the best Downton Abbey recap or whatever. Or it circulates and you hear it first there. And then you've also got stuff like @Horse_ebooks, which is in and of itself amusing. I'm following about 500 people. Everyone knows there are people on Twitter who are smart and valuable and great, but they tweet 9,000 times a day and you just can't follow it. You have to pick: Who are the news organizations, the people who seem to be next to things that happen, and the lunatics that say things? You're going between news about Syria, Obama's new ridiculous thing, and then someone will be like "I just ate some plastic." The poetic rhythm of Twitter is really lovely. It's like the best newspaper you couldn't possibly design. You get tons of hard news. Throw a bone to the skeptic, if I just looked at headlines and didn't read though the reported stuff, that would suck, but here's a way the new world is better

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With longer pieces, I put everything in Instapaper or Readability, and then on the way home or to the office, I read that. My day is divided into being at the computer while I'm writing, when it's cool to look at things and store them, and then the actual reading happens on the way to and from work. When you're at home, the screen will eat you, so in the bedroom, it has to be either a book I'm reading or a print-out. Maybe that's not necessary—I don't love wasting paper, but I have to get my eyes off the screen sometimes. That doesn't mean I don't read on screens, too: I read Freedom on the Kindle app on the iPad—I kept the book next to my bed and I'd read on the subway on the iPad, and I actually liked it more on the iPad. The weird idea of the impermanency of digital is just crazy; it's the same words. I don't go to sites, except one or two old favorites—FFFFOUND!, which has just gorgeous images. I go to that every week or so. Triple Canopy, I have to look on the Web for that, they're made for the Web, with videos and specific formatting, and they use the desktop as a posting platform. 

I've never had so much good writing to read as I do now. It seems the panic about the death of long-form, with all these annoying people saying everyone's going to tweet their lives away was totally overblown. I just don't think so. There are too many instances to enumerate. That doesn't mean I sometimes am not bouncing around like a sparrow and clicking on 20 pieces of information, but when a piece of writing is gripping, for example, this piece by Alice Gregory in n+1: I'm reading it on pdf and it looks great on the iPad; the pdf is nicer than the thing I get in the mail. 

I Google things like anyone. Today was me googling Johnny Jewel, digging up interviews, plain old googling shit up and printing it out. I occasionally even look at books. Especially with pop music, there's a lot not that well represented online. A lot of my own pieces I can't find online. They have very incomplete versions of the Voice, for instance, and I'm glad I was enough of a weirdo to print stuff out. Music magazines are a part of that nexis, the fashiony, half-serious, valuable magazines that never entered the digital or the research world. What if the best interview with Adrian Sherwood was in i-D? I have a taste for the magazine that's called It's Nice That, and some other design magazines with beautiful objects. These are like $45 dollar magazines, but they're fun to look at, and I'm glad that someone feels like having a magazine as a vanity project. I have no idea how those things stay alive, but there seem to be a lot of them.

I'm an obsessive reader, but movies take a hit because at night I'm going to see a band. One of my favorite experiences was the Pina documentary. I downloaded it when I got home and watched it again. I've watched Drive four times. Books are my real set of pleasure. I don't write about them, mostly, so that's my pleasure zone. It doesn't track contemporary stuff; My friend and I were talking about starting an Edith Wharton book club. I read my own magazine every week, when it comes out, and then the two other magazines I read regularly are are the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. If I find myself letting them pile up, or if I Instapaper the ones I read, I'll let that go. On Instapaper, I'll read something not of the moment. I'm glad the archive is there if i need it. That's another thing I like about Twitter—it's a convenient form of bookmarking. I have noticed that if I try to go really far back it won't. I'm OK that some things are going to disappear, but if I'm worried, I'll print it out. I don't want to become some hoarder, but these things will go away.

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