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The Culture Diaries

A Week in Culture: Radhika Jones, Editor

September 1, 2010 | by

DAY ONE

MORNING Tea1 and the NYT Editor's Choice on the iPad. Morning commute: F train, relatively uncrowded because it's the end of August. Reading survey reveals it's a periodical-dominated morning: the Times, the WSJ, the Metro, the Post, and two people facing off with The New Yorker. I pull out my advanced reader's copy of Skippy Dies, which I am in the middle of, and which is so absorbing2 that I need to be careful not to miss my stop.

Second cup of tea steeping in office kitchen. Delightful news via memo left under my door: from now on, the motion-sensor light in my office will only come on if I push it. I hate the fluorescent light, but until now have been powerless to disengage it. Now I will just never turn it on!

Wake up computer and look at Time.com to see what my colleagues have been up to overnight. Also look at the NYTimes Web site, and the Guardian, and Talking Points Memo. And a few book blogs, an old Paris Review habit I've reignited in these slightly news-slow summer months—which is how I come across the sad story of the death of VQR's managing editor.

On deck for this morning: signing off on finished magazine pages; ideas meeting; edits for next week. Also opening all the mail that has piled up in the last few weeks. I should open my mail every day. Then it would not pile up. I know that, but sometimes I rebel3, and this time it has gotten so bad that random colleagues have begun stopping by my office and offering to help me open it. I am the office Collyer Brother.

Morning meeting over. Half an hour until next meeting. Office gloriously unfluorescent. Work takes on low-lit, romantic flavor.

E-mail from my brother wondering which Scrabble app he should download so we can play together. I want to play with him, but he lives in Andover, Mass., so if we are to play, I will have to join Facebook4.

Open InCopy. I love InCopy. It lets me work in layout, and secretly I've always wanted to be a graphic designer. This reminds me that I never saw that documentary Helvetica, all about the font. Turn on iPad and add Helvetica to Netflix queue. It's available for instant viewing! Maybe I will watch it this weekend.

Meetings meetings meetings. Lunch!

AFTERNOON Back at my desk after Italian food and a lovely chat with an entertainment publicist who fills me in on a few fall movies. Caitlin Roper (of Paris Review fame) alerts me to a tweet from Bill Burton saying the President just bought a copy of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. I'm going to go ahead and assume that's because we put Franzen on the cover of Time. President Obama, if you need any more book recommendations, feel free to call me directly. I think you'd really like David Mitchell.

Heroically refrain from reading Skippy Dies during multicolor wheel spin while waiting for InCopy file to open.

Culturally with-it colleague Gilbert Cruz drops by, ostensibly with a work question but actually to recommend I watch the Free Willy horror movie recut on YouTube. It's fantastic. Then we watch The Shining recut as romantic comedy. Then, because I am a Harry Potter fan, I must read "Harry Potter and the Prisoners of Gitmo" on time.com, about the books on offer for Guantanamo detainees.

Call neighborhood bookstore, BookCourt on Court Street, to see about the first Paul Murray book. They don't have it, alas. Meanwhile, twilight is coming on, and it's kind of dark in here. May need to buy an office lamp.

LATER Writing headlines is hard.

LATER STILL I'm done for the day. Skippy and I are reunited!

EVENING Friday nights were made for catching up on Top Chef. Life before DVR—I've blocked it from my memory.

DAY TWO

You know what really cultured people do on the weekend? They pick up their dry-cleaning. That's what. Also they go grocery shopping and contemplate laundry. Saturday morning I do those things, and I finish Skippy Dies. It's a sad and deeply moving book, and I’m sad when I finish it—both because it's sad and because finishing a novel always feels like occasion for brief mourning. The happiest place in the world for me is in the middle of a novel, but I haven't figured out how to stay there. Anyway, I'm listening to WFUV on my Internet radio, and Saturday morning is Irish music, which is just right for Skippy.

AFTERNOON Drive up to Connecticut to visit my sister, brother-in-law and small nieces, during which not much happens by way of imbibing culture, but much happens by way of imbibing cupcakes. The topic of a family trip this winter is broached, and I suggest Eleuthera, and with the help of iPad we find a perfect house on Eleuthera. Remains only to convince my mother! We decide to delegate that task to the adorable granddaughters.

EVENING Dinner with Dad. Mum is away, so Dad and I eat leftovers and settle in for two episodes of Foyle's War, which he is in the middle of. My sister has also been trying to get me to watch it, but I have resisted. Turns out Foyle's War is great! It's about a detective based in a small town on the southern coast of England during World War II; he solves crimes against the backdrop of the expected German invasion. Naturally he does this in a very entertaining way, with an adorable red-headed driver named Sam (short for Samantha), and I am hooked.

DAY THREE

MORNING More Foyle's War! It's addictive. I borrow three discs from Dad, plus his box set of Michael Apted's Up series (which I gave him a few Christmases ago), which I need to rewatch every few years—and which has been in my head since I saw a screening of Waiting for Superman last week. Waiting for Superman (which comes out this fall) follows a group of kids whose parents are trying to get them out of their public schools and into better schools; it's broadly about the education crisis in America, but it gets you emotionally involved with the kids and how, to a certain extent, their fate can be decided by the random outcome of a school lottery. Either they're going to have a chance, or they're going to become statistics. And that's what reminds me of the Up series, where the expectation is that for this group of British kids, first filmed at age seven in 1964, their futures are already more or else charted by socioeconomic factors. But what began as an overdetermined social experiment has become this wildly gripping collection of personal dramas. 56 Up is due out in 2012. I can't wait to see what has happened to Bruce.

AFTERNOON On the drive home, while hydroplaning along the Saw Mill, I play Spot the Retro Orange New York License Plates. It's the color scheme I remember from when I was a kid (we lived in Cincinnati but visited NYC every summer), and I am really happy to see it coming back. It's so brashly orange. Arrive home tense from rainy drive, and abandon virtuous plans to clean out closet. Instead, my husband Max and I make popcorn, and I introduce him to Foyle's War. He likes it! That's good because we will be taking it on vacation with us next week.

EVENING TLS in bed. The TLS is, to my mind, the perfect book/culture publication. It covers all the books I'm interested in, and it interests me in all the books it covers.



Check back tomorrow for the second installment
of Jones' culture diary.



Radhika Jones is an assistant managing editor at Time magazine, overseeing society and culture coverage. She was managing editor of The Paris Review from 2005 to 2008.

Annotations

  1. P.G. Tips, half teaspoon sugar, half teaspoon honey, splash of milk.
  2. It's Paul Murray's second novel, out August 31 in the U.S., and I am going to review it for Time.
  3. Against myself? The post office? All the publishers who put out books and mail them to me?
  4. I didn't join at the beginning, and then I missed the second through eighth waves of enthusiasm and proselytizing. I figured I would just continue blithely through life, Facebook-free, forgetting people's birthdays. But now… Scrabble. Will it be my downfall? This is one of those luxurious dilemmas we face in the developed world.

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