A Week in Culture: Sarah Crichton, Book Editor


The Culture Diaries

Sarah Crichton. Photograph by Joyce Ravid.

DAY ONE, Saturday, May 8

3:28 A.M. Up. Always up at 3:28 A.M., on the nose. Before I crashed, I started Jill Lepore’s piece on the real historical Tea Partiers in The New Yorker. I flip past Lepore and move onto Janet Malcolm’s piece on the trial of Mazoltuv Borukhova, the Bukharan Jewish doctor, for hiring a hitman to off her dentist husband. Brilliant. “We go through life mishearing and mis-seeing and misunderstanding so that the stories we tell ourselves will add up.” Heaven.

5:21 A.M. Awake again. Magazine’s on my chest; light’s still on. Bukharan killers dance in my head. Continue reading.

6:43 A.M. Awake again. Get up? Or shoot for more sleep? Return to Malcolm, who dazzles me, the way she weaves in and out of her piece. “I have let Fass run on too long, and have got ahead of my story. Let me go back to my talk in the hallway with the law guardian, who had said yes to an interview…” I’d love to read some of this to someone, but of course everyone’s asleep and my husband is in Bratislava, I think.

8:50 A.M. A proper weekend wake-up time. Tea, yogurt, weekend Times. What’s in there is scary: oil spills, crushing Greek debt. So start with real-estate section. Mean co-op boards can’t scare me! Work methodically through the sections, ending with the book section, which I’ve already read, so I pick up last week’s Book Review, which is still on the stack by my chair, and read that instead. Francine Prose on how anti-Semitic Irène Némirovsky really was.

10:00 A.M. Switch on NPR. Car Talk. I don’t own a car anymore, but I love those brothers. Would I love them as much if they didn’t have Southie accents?

11:00 A.M. Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! Love that show too, but I’m done chopping vegetables for my soup, and Roy Blount, Jr. isn’t on, so I switch it off.

11:05 A.M. Boot up PC. Check to see if money has miraculously appeared in my checking account (it hasn’t); if I’ve heard from my husband in Bratislava (I haven’t); if there’s something on 1st Dibs that I should know about and buy. Read somewhere that Gwyneth Paltrow did a cute hip-hop routine with Jimmy Fallon, so track it down on Hulu.

12:30 P.M. Pick up Zipcar, and head to JFK to pick up Oberlin-student daughter, in for quick Mother’s Day visit. On radio: Live from the Met. Berg’s Lulu. The wonderful Marlis Petersen as Lulu. Reluctant to leave the opera when I get to JFK, so I sit in the parking lot until intermission. Buy Star magazine in the terminal. HOUSEKEEPERS TELL ALL. Only, they don’t. Daughter arrives. Back in Zipcar, Lulu loses to the new Grizzly Bear CD, which my daughter wants me to hear.

6:50 P.M. Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu) at BAM Rose Cinema in a beautiful fresh print. Couple behind us carp as we sit down. We are tall; they are not. My daughter, sweeter than I, says, “No problem, let’s swap seats.” As we start to settle into our new seats, the couple now behind grumbles, and my daughter starts, but I make it clear I’m not moving. I haven’t seen the movie on a full-size screen since a Brattle Street Theater/Janus Film marathon in the early 1970s. The movie is a joy—farce, satire, visually delicious. But the audience is rigid with respect, and when my daughter starts cracking up, you can sense the irritation. I think they think we are drunk. We’re not. I am intimidated and quiet into a chuckle, but Eliza refuses to be muted. Rightfully so.

11:20 P.M. Home in time to catch Betty White host Saturday Night Live, who’s been picked because of a Facebook contest. She looks damn good for eighty-eight, and she always could talk quasi-dirty, which of course is what they’ve got her doing. I nod off as she’s being a baker, talking about her “big, dusty muffin.”


3:28 A.M. Wake up. TV’s humming. Watch the rest of SNL, taped on the DVR. Fast forwarding through the ads and the dopiest parts, it only takes twenty minutes. Betty White glows next to Jay-Z as the credits roll.

8:20 A.M. Sunday Times. Lena Horne’s dead. Page One obit. As I read, there’s a frame in my head where I watch her slink around the stage singing, sloowwwwlly, the “Surrey with the Fringe on the Top” like it was the sexiest damn song ever written. I go upstairs to where I keep my music and theater books and pull out The Hornes, by Gail Lumet Buckley, Hornes’s daughter. What a great book. 
Obama’s picking Elena Kagan.

10:12 A.M. The Sunday talks are on. As I listen, I pay bills, order the week’s groceries from Fresh Direct, cruise Epicurious for a Mother’s Day recipe to make for myself, my daughter, and my friend Ruth, who will come over soon. Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and lemon cream from Bon Appetite. Four forks.
 Yesterday, I tried another recipe from The New York Times’s Melissa Clark—a green goddess dip. It was godawful. E. J. Dionne is on the Meet the Press roundtable, and he erupts, and properly so, when David Brooks dismissively refers to someone getting “lawyered up.”

11:30 A.M. Plug in iPod shuffle. (“Heebie Jeebie,” Louis Armstrong. “I Heard the Crash on the Highway, But I Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” Roy Acuff. “The Dream Goes on Forever,” Todd Rundgren.) Wake up daughter. (“He is Such an Understanding God,” The Abyssinian Baptist Church. “100,000 Fireflies,” Magnetic Fields. Gregorian chants.) Ruth arrives. (“Winterlude,” Bob Dylan. “Scotland the Brave.” “Mavis,” Merciless. Vivaldi: “Gloria, Laudamus Te.” “Villanelles,” Gabriel Kahane. “June in January,” Julie London.) Make the Epicurious recipe: delicious. Serve with a nice rosé and warm whole-grain bread and green salad. Very happy.

2:30 P.M. Quick Brooklyn Museum trip, for a little mother-daughter feminist art action. Kiki Smith’s Sojourns, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. Also caught American High Style.

7:00 P.M. Daughter gets on train to the plane, and I head to Brooklyn Heights to meet my friend Paula, and catch Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer before it leaves the borough.

10:50 P.M. Get into bed with Terrence Rafferty’s The Thing Happens, which contains a very long essay he wrote for The New Yorker in the early nineties about The Rules of the Game.


3:28 A.M. Finish Rafferty essay, which is very smart.

6:30 A.M. Morning Edition. Oof. Kakutani: “This remarkably tedious new novel by Martin Amis…” 
Set DVR to record Ric Burns’s documentary, Into the Deep, about whaling, which will air tonight, because I’ll be out and I think Ric Burns is a brilliant filmmaker.

9:00 A.M. On subway. Should read the proposals in my bag that I was supposed to read over the weekend, but instead play Brickbreaker on my Blackberry the whole way. One of the best scenes in Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail is when the bankers all gather at the New York Fed, waiting for Lehman to collapse, and they whip out their Blackberries and start competing over Brickbreaker scores. The action on my Blackberry ball is getting jagged. It’s like playing tennis with a warped racket.

10:00 A.M. At office, watch Obama and Kagan in the Rose Garden, streaming over computer, from 

All day: open e-mails; reply to e-mails; delete enough e-mails to enable more, fat e-mails to clog the queue.

7:00 P.M. Literacy Partners fundraiser at Lincoln Center. Very Texan. Lot of Texans. Ball gowns and hairdos and faces. Barbara Taylor Bradford, who seems like a nice woman, is honored for her generosity. 
Four writers read before dinner. Sara Gruen reads from the forthcoming novel, Ape House. Next up, my author, David Finkel, who reads a wrenching scene from The Good Soldiers in which a young wife tries to comfort her very young husband, who has been profoundly injured in Iraq. The Giffords are visibly moved and lean in to each other. Mary Karr reads a funny, angry part of Lit, in which her mother falls off the wagon the night of Karr’s rehearsal dinner. And last, Norris Church Mailer, radiant and frail in layers of autumnal velvet, floats to the podium to read a section from her memoir about how she sweetly tricked Norman Mailer into buying her a full-length red fox coat, and how, in gratitude, as a gift one Christmas, she had photographs taken of herself in that coat and nothing else. There were those who were appalled by the tale, but I found it charming, and it was the right story to tell to such a Texan crowd. 
I walked up to Tommy Tune and told him I’d always wanted to dance with him. In my party heels I was about six foot four and he towered over me. He was very gracious and very tan. “Wehll,” he said, “one of these days we may just get our chance.”

10:40 P.M. What to do, what to do? Had too much fundraiser wine to read much of anything, and I’m not in the mood for a whaling documentary, however brilliant. I flip through stacks of magazines—Time Out, New York, Food and Wine, Elle Décor, Rolling Stone—and rip out pages, of recipes I’ll never make, songs I’ll never download, tickets I’ll never order.

11:20 P.M. Turn on the final episode of Damages, which I recorded a few weeks back and never watched. When the episode is over, and all the random storylines are supposed to have been woven together, I sit on my bed and try see how the pieces all fit. Who was Glenn Close yelling at? “No, no, I told you not to do that!” she screams. Can someone explain this to me?

Check back tomorrow for the second installment of Sarah Crichton’s Culture Diary. Crichton, a former editor of Seventeen and Newsweek, is the publisher of Sarah Crichton Books at Farrar, Straus and Giroux.