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A Week in Culture: Radhika Jones, Part 2

September 2, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Jones' culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


DAY FOUR

Morning I put in some book requests, per last night's TLS: Tom McCarthy's new book C, which is out September 7, and his first novel, Remainder, which I meant to read after the great piece Zadie Smith wrote in the New York Review of Books a couple of years ago, "Two Paths for the Novel," about McCarthy and Joseph O'Neill. Meetings and a quick edit eat up much of the morning.

Lunch with a favorite literary agent—one of those agents who turns out to represent all the writers you're hearing great things about. We fill each other in on what we've been reading. I make a mental note to pack Rosecrans Baldwin's You Lost Me There in the vacation bag.

Afternoon Gilbert sends me a 5 P.M. pick-me-up, in the form of the YouTube video for Cee Lo's hilarious single "F--k You." I love the typography! Thanks, Gilbert. I start working on my book review, which is to say, I write a sentence that may or may not be the lede.

Trailer break! The Social Network. I am bizarrely excited to see this movie1, which stars Jesse Eisenberg and his hoodie. And now onward to the trailer for the fake Twitter movie, which looks even more awesome.

In the NYT, I read a piece on the Shakespeare Quarterly opening up its traditional peer review system to open review online. As a former (recovering?) academic, I like this idea.

Remainder arrives. I check out the Literary Saloon, which leads me to New York's twenty most anticipated books of the season, and to a piece about Barnes and Noble, also in New York, by Andrew Rice. Paris Review alert! One of NY Mag's most anticipated fiction books is Danielle Evans' Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. We published Danielle's first short story, "Virgins" (issue 182), which went on to be selected for Best American Short Stories. And Andrew Rice had a great piece of nonfiction, "The Book of Wilson," from his travels in Uganda, in issue 177.

I also read "Dear Prudence" on Slate. This is the only advice column I ever read. I'm not exactly sure why—I'm not sure why I read it, and I'm not sure why it's the only one2 I read. And I don't have time to puzzle it out, so it'll be one of the many things in life I just chalk up to mystery appeal.

Evening Bhangra class. A few years ago (actually, about six years ago, yikes), my friend Sailaja and I started taking bhangra classes. We had no dance background, and I have the flexibility of a No. 2 pencil. But our teacher, Ambika3, is brilliant, and after a year or so we had become, as Sailaja put it, not great bhangra dancers but passable bhangra students. Which we thought was pretty impressive!

Home and slightly wired from exercise, so Max and I pop in the third episode of Foyle's War. Bedtime (re)reading: an essay on pain from Atul Gawande4's book Complications.

DAY FIVE

Morning Edits. Work on review, in bits and pieces: There are some people who write a piece straight through. I can't do it. I wrote most of my dissertation in short pockets of time in the mornings before heading to The Paris Review offices, so I got used to writing in short takes—sometimes just one sentence5.

Daily Show clip, via Talking Points Memo: Is Fox News evil or stupid? Trailer for The Inside Job, the upcoming doc about the financial meltdown.

Evening spur-of-the-moment outing with my buddy Jeff Giles, a big cheese at Entertainment Weekly, to see an advance screening of Catfish, which is a documentary about Facebook relationships that (spoiler alert!) does not have any actual catfish in it. I'm not saying anything beyond that, because it's better if you don't know much about it. But I'm very glad I saw it. Post-screening bite with Jeff, during which we discuss Skippy Dies (which he is also reviewing) and other important matters of fact and fiction.

Get home late, catch up on work e-mail, and take new New Yorker to bed and read David Denby's review of Eat Pray Love, a movie I likely will not see6. There is an Ian Frazier piece on Siberia; I read the opening few paragraphs and save the rest for morning.

DAY SIX

Gloomy weather! I take my tea back to bed and read the NYT on the iPad7. There's another piece in the "Your Brain on Computers" series, and I feel virtuous about having only one device in front of me, because compared to the multitasking, screen-shifting brain-addled people in this article, I am extremely focused on my one single device. Then I remember that I already checked my BlackBerry this morning.

Subway reading is the Frazier piece, in which he visits an abandoned labor camp in Siberia. I loved his two-part Siberia piece The New Yorker published last summer, which was digressive and thoughtful and a little moody and mosquito-y and had this fantastic payoff in the shape of a paragraph on the unexpected profusion of watermelons in Russia, and how perfectly round they are, which is true. I rode the Trans-Siberian railroad in the summer of 1997—actually what I took was the Trans-Manchurian route, from Beijing up through Manchuria and into Siberia—so I am a sucker for stories from that part of the world. I took the trip because I'd been living in Russia for two years and wanted to see the country I'd been living in before I left it. I'd been thinking about Russia as this vast expanse of east to west. But what you realize on the train, where you spend a lot of time looking out the window, is how vast it is from south to north. The rail line hugs the southern border, and as you travel along it you're thinking how remote it is, and then you look north and realize: this remoteness is nothing compared to that. And that's where the labor camps are.

Arrive at the office and forward invitation for Catfish screenings to various Time writers who might be interested in seeing it. They write back and say, What is it about? I say, I'm not telling! Just see it!

Work. Meetings. Chicken and barley soup at my desk. All these clouds mean it's really quite dark in my office now. People come to show me layouts, and it's dark, and there's all this mail piled up… I'm just saying, the Collyer Brothers probably thought they were totally normal.

After-work drink with a friend in Brooklyn. While waiting for her, I order a Guinness and finish Jane Mayer's piece on the Koch brothers, then turn to Adam Gopnik on Churchill. I'm having that thing where a miniature obsession, in this case Foyle's War, is directing my interest toward its topic, World War II-related in Britain. Thanks for playing along, New Yorker.

DAY SEVEN

Morning Flurry of e-mails—planning, ideas, catch-up. I need to finish my Skippy Dies review today.

Lunch in the Time Inc. cafeteria (impossibly glamorous, trust me) with Jeff, who mocks me for not being finished with my review. He is finished with his review. Yeah, but his review is half the length of mine. Yeah, but that means mine should take even less time to write. Book reviewing as competitive sport!

Evening Vacation bookbag is packed!

Contents:

Foyle's War, sets two and three

The Wire complete series box set (if it rains at the beach house, there's nothing to do but watch TV. That's how we once watched an entire season of 24 in three days. It wasn't even one of the good seasons)

The Up series, box set

Remainder, by Tom McCarthy

C, by Tom McCarthy

Half a Life, by Darin Strauss

How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu8

You Lost Me There, by Rosecrans Baldwin

The Spartacus Road, by Peter Stothard (from my friend Peter Mayer at the Overlook Press; Stothard is the editor of the TLS, thus my hero)

new issue of Time (cover: "Rethinking Homeownership," which makes me feel good about renting)

my friend Sailaja's complete dissertation draft (hurrah for finished dissertations!)

New York's fall preview issue

Entertainment Weekly's movie preview issue

And my review is finished! I'll tinker with it in the morning, but I have it pretty much where I want it—all the paragraphs go in order, and most of the extraneous words have dropped out, and I've said what I wanted to say. It'll be in Time next week, and I hope it'll make a difference.

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. I wonder if Harvard will start showing it during first-year orientation instead of Love Story.
  2. Although my all-time favorite Slate column is from the nineties—the Shopping Avenger. He avenged consumer wrongs, until he got caught in a U-Haul spiral from which he never emerged, which anyone who has ever rented from U-Haul can understand. O Shopping Avenger. I miss you, and I try to make you proud.
  3. Last year Ambika took off for Nigeria to make films, but I knew that if I waited patiently and went on an exercise strike, she'd come back. And she has. And tonight is our first class.
  4. Have been on a Gawande rereading binge since his wonderful end-of-life care piece in The New Yorker a few weeks back.
  5. This habit has stuck with me, and now I write in groups of sentences and then put them together, editing as I go and mulling over new thoughts in the in-between stretches. (My best ideas happen on the subway. I'm convinced there's something about being in motion that facilitates the flow of ideas. As a kid, when doing rote memorization like learning spelling words, I used to walk around in circles. It drove my mother nuts.) It's totally inefficient, insofar as even a 400-word piece can spread out over days, and for that reason I wouldn't recommend it to anyone—but it works for me, which (as I learned from reading lots and lots of Paris Review interviews) is the most valuable lesson you can learn about how to write. What's more, I enjoy it. It means that for a good chunk of time part of my brain is chewing over what I want to say about a book, and short of being in the middle of a book, my favorite place to be is in the middle of a piece of writing about a book.
  6. I could only get about a third of the way into the "Eat" section of that book. I admire the sentiment of it, but I am allergic to sentence fragments in published works.
  7. Can it be said that I am reading the paper on the iPad? The disappearance of books and newspapers is not something that causes me anxiety—I don't think it will happen, or maybe I just think far worse things will happen before it happens—but it's interesting to track how language adapts.
  8. Fifty pages in and I am really liking this novel, Mengestu's second. It'll be out in October.

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