Will Tracy: 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 an email exchange with Will Tracy, editor of the satirical newspaper The Onion.

I am mildly ashamed to say I often begin the day by immediately picking up my phone from the windowsill and checking first my email and then Twitter. Twitter, for God's sake. I just feel like there is something inherently pathetic about a human being waking up and deciding their first moments of consciousness need to be spent looking at what happened on Twitter while they were asleep. I am very new to it, but I have begun to depend on it as a barometer of what people are saying about American culture. I suppose it is most useful to me, professionally, as an indicator of what jokes or comments to avoid. People coalesce very quickly around a certain opinion about the news, or what the "funniest" angle of a breaking news item is, and so I guess I try to quickly ascertain whatever that angle is and do my best to keep it out of The Onion. I think the paper is always best and funniest when it avoids repurposing the current consensus opinion on news, politics, and culture.

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At this point in the morning, I begin to despise myself for mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds and so I switch over to something truly meaningful and important: professional basketball blogs. ESPN's NBA page, the True Hoop blog, The Basketball Jones, Grantland's NBA coverage, and The Classical. I can tell another human being all about how the Minnesota Timberwolves are talented, deep, and primed to make some noise in the Western Conference.

The Onion responds, in a direct way, to current events far more than it did even a year ago. I want to make The Onion feel more relevant, and to make it a website people feel they need to check everyday, rather than just every once in a while. That means I have to follow the news quite avidly. Not only to know about what's happening in the news, but to know how the media is covering it, and how their coverage is flawed, or silly, or absurd. For the straight dope, I read The New York Times. When I want to know what kind of junk people are clicking on in a robotic stupor I visit the Huffington Post and, to a lesser extent, CNN. I look mainly at the home pages, because what's most important to me for satirical purposes is a news site's primary entry point. In other words, a news site's home page is its way of saying "Here is what we think is of the greatest importance today," and also, "Here is what we think has the best chance of being clicked on." And those two statements are what I am most interested in satirizing. And the more we respond to those things, the more people have the sense that The Onion is subversively invading the 24-hour news cycle, which is exactly the sense I want people to have.

At lunch, I can't look at work. So for 15 minutes, while I eat a terrible sandwich, I read reviews of things. Album reviews on Pitchfork or Robert Christgau's Expert Witness blog. Also comic book reviews featured in Tucker Stone's absolutely vicious Comics of the Weak column on The Comics Journal's website. 

I go through phases with comic books. I will not read any for months and months, and then I will suddenly have a four or five month burst where I read a truly staggering amount of comic books. I am currently in one of the latter stages. Big time. I'm currently sorting through heaping stacks of Mike Mignola, Naoki UrasawaEd Brubaker, and Mark Waid. I buy comic books at Chicago Comics on North Clark in Chicago and Comix Revolution in Evanston. In New York, I would buy them at Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn. I never read comics on the train, or anywhere in public, because it just makes me feel like a 12-year-old when other grown adults can clearly see me reading Captain America or Hellboy with great concentration.

But, hold on, I'm not just some man-child dummy. I also read a lot of historical non-fiction and science writing, too. Honest. I'll go ahead and recommend Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, because I enjoy recommending nightmarish visions of despotic hellscapes.

I read the New Yorker when I can. And I can't. At least not to the extent I'd like to. In terms of television, I really can't watch any comedy. TV for me is escapism, and after looking at jokes all day and thinking very analytically about jokes it's just not very relaxing for me to come home and watch a show full of jokes. The only comedy shows I've watched much of in the past year or so have been the BBC show The Thick of It, and a few episodes of Louie here and there. Beyond that, I enjoy Homeland and Breaking Bad, but I also love me a whole lot o' junk, including any and all cooking shows, and this abysmal reality show called Gallery Girls about a group of truly vicious and ambitiously unlikable young women who "work" at "top galleries" in New York.

Podcast wise, there is nothing I enjoy more than The Best Show on WFMU with Tom Scharpling. It is untouchable. I like it because it makes me feel better. As angry or pessimistic as the show can be on occasion, I always feel rejuvenated and optimistic after hearing it. It's also the funniest show on the radio. I download the show and listen to it on my phone when I'm walking the dog or on the way to work.

Boy, when you see the sum total of media you consume in one big block like this it makes one's life seem unbearably meager and sad, doesn't it? Oh, well! Best not to think about these things!

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