Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: What I Read

The incomparable Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tells us why he won't read news first thing in the morning, why Rachel Maddow makes him want to tear out his fingernails (in a good way), and reminds us that sometimes humor helps the medicine go down. 

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How do people deal with the torrent of information pouring down on us all? We regularly reach out to prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts and the literary world to hear their answers. This piece comes from an email interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, best-selling author, columnist, and the NBA's all-time leading scorer. He will also be the subject of an upcoming HBO Sports documentary.

I don’t like to read first thing in the morning, because it interferes with my writing. I try to work on my novel in the morning before I’m exposed to the world’s natural disasters or Kim Kardashian’s fashion disasters because they can distract me from thinking about the story and characters. If I read about the FUBAR at the Veteran’s Administration, my outrage bleeds into my writing and suddenly I have my fictional middle schoolers marching on Washington.

Once I’m done with my fiction writing, I grab that day’s New York Times and read the entire edition looking for my name. If I don’t see it, I send an angry email demanding that they fire the editor. Actually, reading the Times in the morning is like plugging myself into the rest of the world, making me feel as if we’re all part of the same community. News is like a language that we all speak. It’s like a discussion we’re all having about how to make the world better.

During the day I’m constantly plugging into one or another news source, including watching MSNBC and ESPN, and reading the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Register, Esquire.com, and Time.com. Because I love popular culture, and write a weekly column for the L.A. Register and a bi-weekly column for Time.com on the subject, I also read an assortment of magazines, including Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, Time, and The Week.

In Man of La Mancha, when Sancho Panza is asked why he hangs with Don Quixote, he responds by singing, “Tear out my fingernails one by one, I like him.” I feel very similar to that about my connection to the New York Times, Rachel Maddow, and Fareed Zakaria. Daily exposure to them makes me feel a lot smarter and my fingernails haven’t really done much for me lately except collect dirt.

I have nothing philosophically against social media, but my schedule is so busy every day that I don’t have time for it. I would love to tweet more and I’m dying to know whether Miley Cyrus uses paper or plastic for her groceries, but some things I’ve learned to live without. That doesn’t mean I won’t change. Especially if Harrison Ford tweets his frittata recipe.

For pleasure (and edification) I watch Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. They are all smart and funny men, but what comes through most is their compassion and hopefulness. Toward the end of the day, after reading and watching so much depressing news, I really need a triple shot of humor, compassion and hopefulness to remind me why I do it.

Before I go to sleep, I might watch a favorite TV drama: Elementary, The Blacklist, Mad Men, The Good Wife, or Game of Thrones. Then I’ll put some jazz on my iPad and settle in to read either a history book or a novel. I especially like reading about the American West because I’m pretty sure I would have been an awesome gunslinger who sees the error of his lawless ways and then becomes a beloved sheriff. When reading fiction, I have a broad spectrum of taste, from the literary short stories of Miranda July and Lorrie Moore to the mysteries of Raymond Chandler and Walter Mosley to the classic works of Zora Neale Hurston and Herman Melville.

And sometimes I just read the tag on the mattress. Inspector #14 is my favorite.

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