Jay Fielden: What I Read

Town & Country's editor in chief starts his day with Grand Central Station's newsstand and ends it with True Detective

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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 phone conversation with Jay Fielden, the editor-in-chief of Town & Country

I'm too trained to be At One With The Phone. I use it as my alarm clock, so of course it's right there [by the bed]. First thing, usually I look at one of my daughters, who has sneaked into the bed overnight between me and my wife. I'll find an elbow or a knee inserted into my ribs. So, I wake up with a pain in my side, and then I take a look at them and see that they're still asleep, so I'll slip out of bed.

The first thing that I look at — you know I'm very Pavlovian — so I have to look at that cell phone and see who's been emailing me, what push notifications I've gotten from CNN, The New York Times, Instagram, Facebook. All that stuff, just to make sure that the world has not fallen apart. Then I really have to put away anything that will be distracting so I can decide what I'm going to wear, and I have to do that quite quickly because I don't get up that early to catch the train. I do that all in pretty much silence, I don't listen to the radio or anything. I've got to keep from waking up everyone else — I have to be a kind of quiet mouse.

I get out of the house, I jump in the car. I'm always feeling like I've got to kind of hustle, so I scoop up the newspaper from the driver's side with the door open, and you know, I kind of careen into the street. (There's never anyone coming the other way. I'm always safe.) I listen to NPR in the morning in the car in the eight minutes it takes me to get to the train; I pick up whatever may be going on. If I'm late I might even listen to the BBC, but I usually leave quite a bit earlier than that.

The train is really about The New York Times in the morning. I read that pleasurably with an eye toward what might be relevant for me to know about in terms of what we do in the magazine. Each of the sections mean something to me, and there's always something there for us, whether it's culture or business or world events. It's important to the mission of Town & Country to know those things. If it's a boring day at the paper, which is rare — and I don't really think of one day being better than another, though Monday is one to be carefully read, so you don't get called out for not having looked at it by your boss — then I turn to all the things I have to read for the magazine.

We have these ways of circulating text at Town & Country, which I learned when I was an editor at The New Yorker, and those habits that are so intrinsic to making The New Yorker what it is, are ingrained in me, too. So I carry with me these manuscripts with blue top sheets that have editors' comments of what's been done to the piece, what state it's in, what they think of it. I try to read the piece before reading those comments, so I'm not prejudiced and can have my own thoughts. Once I form my own thoughts, I read what the other editors said, and then I write something myself, in terms of what should be done next. Or, I just say, "It's OK," in which case I put my initials on it. So there's a considerable amount of reading to be done in that way, and sometimes if we're closing I have to cheat The New York Times and read more Town & Country.

So if I don't have much of that going on, I'll look at my phone again, because I probably sent a few emails in the dark, and I want to know if someone's gotten back to me. My publisher is one of those early birds who likes to get up at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. and do something ridiculous like work out. Even if I email her at 6:45, she's been up for two hours. I look at what she's emailed back from me. I have a feeling I'm playing a game of Asteroids, from the '80s, where all the thoughts, the things I have to do that day, the phone calls, emails, points I have to make, all start colliding at once. So I may begin writing myself an email in that case, which I send myself to look at once I get to work.

I also check out Instagram, and I might post a picture if I've done something interesting myself. I look at Twitter. I don't really use it to guide my sense of events in the world, but I look at it for amusement, and in some ways to keep up with somebody who might be hard to keep up with otherwise. We cover philanthropy, so I might check out if Bill Gates has said something. I look at the Guggenheim Museum feed, because they do a lot of interesting things about what's going on in the art world. I like Keith Richards, so I'll check out what wisdom he has to impart. Niall Ferguson is interesting. Morning JoeI always want to know who's on there, since I go on there a decent amount. I really like Dwight Garner, the book critic of the Times. He's written for us, too. He's a funny guy. He's also good on Instagram.

On Instagram, I follow my son, so I can keep up with him. He's 11 — he just got his first phone about two weeks ago, so he's very active. I have to make sure he's not being followed by or following someone suspicious. So I do a little fathering at the same time I'm figuring out what else is going on in the world.

By that time, I'm probably arriving in Grand Central. I always walk through Grand Central on a couple of errands. One, is that I stop at the newsstand and just check it all out. I always feel like, breezing through there, I pick up something. Whether it's the way things have been displayed, or a coverline, or I see somebody who reminds me of somebody else. I always look at where Town & Country is being displayed, and whether the stack looks like it's been dented by sales, even though they probably restock it every night. It's just a reassuring thing when you're in our business to walk through the newsstand there and see four or five hundred magazines displayed 15-deep. This is a business that's going to be around a long time.

I love print, I have to admit it. I have an iPad, an iPhone, a Kindle, all of those things. But I'm finding that the way I like to digest the stuff and make sense of it is that I like to tear things out, mark it up. Keep a lot of the things to refer to later. For me, it's probably more based on what I do and what I use a lot of the reading for — making the magazine that I make.

I feel like my day is so busy with interacting with actual human beings that there's not a lot of time left for horsing around on the Internet. So what I do is, on the way back home, I'm back on the train, and there is a little bit of the guilty pleasure. You know, the you've earned it of heading back to wife and family and trying to wrestle three kids to bed. So I read the New York Post, of course. And I read Page Six and WWD's MemoPad. I take the Wall Street Journal back with me. So I take a little broccoli and I also take some dessert. I might look at the New York Review of Books, because again, that's a strain of part of who I am, and I love keeping up with it. I look at The Paris Review, I look at The New Yorker. The places I've been, if I'm an alum, I keep up with them because they have a special place in my heart. So I look at Vogue, I look at The New Yorker. And then my wife tells me I need to read People, so I read People, and I look at Us Weekly

When I get in the car on the way home, I don't listen to the radio. If I'm a good boy, I listen to my Italian lessons. I've been learning Italian for about a year and a half, and I have this amazing DVD series that's also an app, called Pimsleur. I hate going to Italy and not being able to speak that fantastic language with those lovely people. 

If I'm reading books, I read things that my own magazine inspired me to read. For instance, in the May issue, we have a great piece by Martin Amis. Of course I've read a lot of Martin Amis, but there's always a little bit I haven't read. I'm not pretending to be able to read a book every week — there's no way. I have a lot of guilt from my college years of not having read all the things that I was assigned. I read a lot, but I wasn't always the best at it. So I always go back to the things I cheated myself out of in college. I read a lot of the classics. 

I probably watch more TV than I'd like to admit. There are series that I get involved in that I have to watch. I was really into True Detective. It's kind of ridiculously pretentious, but it's dark, and the two guys, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, are fabulous in it. I record Charlie Rose because I don't stay up that late. I like cooking shows. I especially like Jacques Pepin. I think I need to watch The Americans, that's on my list. Of course, I watch things like Downton Abbey, who doesn't? Occasionally, I'll find ways to waste time watching things like the NFL. Of course my heart beats faster whenever the Masters gets advertised. The ads start in January, though it's coming in April. I play golf, I'm guilty of that. 

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