Mallory Ortberg: What I Read
The Toast co-founder Mallory Ortberg spends more time online writing than she does reading, loves her site's commenters, and thinks Party Down is a perfect television show.
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 Mallory Ortberg, co-founder of The Toast, and whose book Texts From Jane Eyre comes out later this year.
Usually, the first thing I do when I wake up is I start working, so I often won’t start the day by reading anything, because I like to minimize my “commute” as much as possible. I wake up, open my laptop and start working in bed. Because I live out in California and we work on East Coast time, I have to get cracking right away. Pretty much right away I’ll write something.
After I do my first writing of the day I will generally look at Twitter and Google News – and that’s my big media secret. I look at Twitter and I look at Google because they pull all the headlines from other websites. I’m on Twitter a lot of the day because I really like Twitter. It’s great for jokes. But when I’m writing I can’t do anything else. I can’t even listen to music. I just have to write and then I can do something else. I can’t multitask. When I’m not actively in the process of writing, then I might be on Twitter or Gchat a little bit, or checking the super obvious websites that everybody reads, but I can’t really multitask in that way.
Twitter, though, I love. I’m so used to instant gratification; I have an idea and I want to say it right away to see if its funny, if people respond to it, if people have other ideas to add to it — or do I like it less once I see it written down? Twitter is just a really fun and handy way to get ideas out there.
I use Twitter for news a little bit. I’m really not a journalist and I don’t do a ton of newsy pieces. Occasionally I’ll write about something that’s going on recently, but I really don’t do a ton of stuff that’s tied to current events. As far as other websites, I’ll check out the same things that everyone else does like Buzzfeed and Gawker – not on a daily basis really, but probably on a weekly basis. And I like to read Feministing on occasion, and I read Autostraddle, but that’s more of a monthly read for me. I like to read the San Francisco Chronicle. I think Caille Millner is fantastic; I try to read her at least a couple of times a month. I don’t read Reddit really. Every once in a while someone will send me a link to something and I’ll check it out. And I don’t really use Instagram or anything. I just signed up for Today in Tabs, but some times I have to let it build up until Friday to go through it.
When I was working a day job I had more time for reading blogs – which you shouldn’t do. You should work if you have a day job, but I didn’t. I read a lot more blogs and websites that I’ve since forgotten, but I have to write so much that I need to spend a lot of time thinking about my own ideas and figuring out whether or not they work. So I spend more time writing than I do reading during the day, but I like to catch up as much as I can after work. It’s not a conscious decision to not read so much, but it’s not really my main focus.
So I’m vaguely aware of the news in the way most people are, which is to say I’ll have looked at a newspaper or I’ve been in a room with a TV on or I click on headlines, but usually my first concern for the day is "What am I going to write?", not "What do I need to know?"
Writing about literature helps with that. I did all my news getting in high school and college, and now I’m slowly vomiting it back into the world. On any given day I am reading P.G. Wodehouse, that it just a given. I’ve been trying to be read a little more young adult literature this year because I haven’t in years past, so I’ve been trying to get caught up. I really loved Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I’m reading Rainbow Rowell's upcoming book, Landline, that she sent me, which is really fun because she’s my favorite human being in the world and I love to read everything she writes.
I used to have a subscription to The New Yorker, because my grandmother got it for me, but I think it ran out. And I get Cook’s Illustrated because I do a feature about [editor-in-chief] Chris Kimball and frankly I’m obsessed with him. I got my phone, which is an HTC One, because I read in an interview that he has one, and he’s such a perfectionist guy that I thought he knows what’s up, and it would be a good way to talk to him if I ever met him. I think a lot about what I would do if I met Chris Kimball; I’d say about 10 percent of my thoughts any given day are concocting really casual scenarios where we happen to run into each other and we become best friends. He’s so terrifying and he’s the weirdest man in the world and I love him.
I actually read the comments [on The Toast] a lot. Before I started writing for The Hairpin I was a commenter there, and I read the comments obsessively and loved commenting. It was my favorite part of the day – figuring out what’s the joke that’s going to work here, and what’s something that’s going to add to the conversation between a bunch of people I like. I try really consciously to have that same sort of fun, chatty goings-on at The Toast, so I really love to read our commenters and see what they have to say. Often they’ll build on a joke or make a request or mention something that makes me think, “Of course, I have to write that,” or “I’m stealing that from you, but I’ll give you credit.” The comments are the most direct feedback I get throughout the day and they are also generally people who care about the same things I care about, because they’re reading my website.
But most days writing is my job and since I don’t need to know a ton about the news, all I do is write and I watch the same six episodes of Futurama that I’ve seen a hundred times. And, like everyone my age, I watched the first eight seasons of The Simpsons religiously. I also watch a lot of animated cartoons for some reason: Bob’s Burgers, Archer, Daria, The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, Gargoyles. I freaking love cartoons. Gargoyles had an amazing mythology. Oh, and I watch Broad City! I only have a laptop right now for my TV (I wouldn’t say I don’t have a TV because I use my laptop as a TV all the time) so that often means I have to catch up with shows at the end, as opposed to keep up with them as they’re going.
After work, I often watch Futurama when I’m making dinner, or sometimes I watch Party Down because I have it on my hard drive, so I just have it on in the background at all times. That was a legitimately perfect show. Sometimes I’ll just watch the scene from the last episode where Roman (Martin Starr) eats all of the weed cookies and has the whole thing about the serpent in the mirror. I think that’s the funniest several minutes of television ever.
And that reminds me: Ken Marino and all the guys from Wet Hot American Summer; I’ll watch them any day. More than I listen to radio or podcasts, I’ll listen to classic comedy that I love like that: Kids in the Hall, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Mr. Show. White guys from the '80s and '90s: that is just my happy place.
At the end of the day, I could try to not take my laptop into bed with me, but that doesn’t always work out. So sometimes I fall asleep with my laptop going through TV Tropes and some times I will fall asleep reading a book if I feel quite virtuous, but it’s usually my laptop. Before I go to bed, I like to have one or two ideas ready for the next day.