Jami Attenberg: What I Read

The Middlesteins novelist sleeps with her phone on the floor next to her bed, but leaves it at home each morning as she writes for an hour in a notebook without facing a screen. 

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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 Jami Attenberg, author of, most recently, The Middlesteins, a New York Times best seller and one of Amazon's 10 best books of the year.

I check my phone first thing when I wake up in the morning. I usually take it up with me to bed so it’s on the floor next to the bed, although not actually in bed with me, because I really do not want to be the person who sleeps with their phone. Although I am not judging you if you do, because lord knows I am not in any position to judge the amount of time someone spends with their technological devices. Anyway: email, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr. First thing. I especially enjoy looking at what people were talking about at 2 a.m. That's when things get pretty entertaining and/or real.

What I try very hard to do is have an hour or so in the morning when I leave the house and don't have my phone with me. I’ll go sit in a café and read and handwrite in my notebook and not be facing a screen. My head will be clear. I will be able to hear myself think. Because honestly for the rest of the day it’s just screens, screens, screens. Generally I’ll spend an hour, maybe two, just catching up on news, via The New York Times and links from my Twitter feed. Also I look at sites like The Awl and The Hairpin, New York. That’s just a fraction of what I read. My Twitter feed is probably my biggest resource of news. Other people scour the web so I do not have to, and I thank them for it. My Tumblr feed is more for entertainment. I like a late afternoon Tumblr run to take a break from the writing. Also I like to do a drive-by on gossip websites.

I am pretty steadily connected all day long to the same things I start the day with, Tumblr, Facebook, email, Gchat, etc. I’ve been promoting a book these past few months so I’ve really been working a lot on social media, but I’ve been online for so many years it feels seamless by now anyway. I am looking forward to taking a little bit of a break next year though. Social media can connect you with other people in so many wonderful ways — but it can also make you really sick of yourself.

I have a bunch of people that I follow who are doing interesting things that are outside of the realm of my book world. Chris Arnade is a photographer who has been covering the prostitutes and addicts of Hunts Point for a few years, and I’ve found his work compelling and heartbreaking. I always enjoy Rozalia Jovanovic’s coverage of the art world for Gallerist. I just find her really interesting and smart. There’s a tumblr called Fosterhood about a single woman fostering children in Brooklyn that is riveting and funny and touching. Chris Uphues catalogs his heart-shaped work on his Tumblr and it delights me every time I look at it. I could go on and on. There are so many people doing interesting things in the world, on the web. They enrich my life.

I shut off my cable this summer because I could not stomach paying for it a second longer. But I do catch up on some shows on Hulu. I really do not think I could live a complete life without Parks and Rec. Also I have a Netflix subscription, which often feels like a complete waste of time and yet I persist.

I listen to KEXP in Seattle a lot online. I used to live in Seattle in the mid-90s which is how I first discovered it. KEXP remains my perfect radio station. When I'm actually in the thick of writing, I try to listen to lots of music without words, classical and soundtracks, for example. Also I like Explosions in the Sky, and sometimes things sung in French.

I try to watch a little Hulu or a movie before I go to bed, but it's just sort of playing in a small window while I catch up on whatever correspondence I missed for the day. Sometimes I check in on Twitter. People who are on around bedtime are usually just goofing off, and it makes me laugh, and comforts me in a small way. There's no great anxiety about the news usually at 11 p.m., just a release before sleep.

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