A Week in Culture: Reagan Arthur, Book Editor


The Culture Diaries


6:30 A.M. Packing for a trip to Toronto to meet George Pelecanos for the Hammett Awards. Embarking not just on a short trip, but on a Culture Diary, haunted already by George’s quote yesterday in The Wall Street Journal when they asked people what they’re reading this summer: “I’m not going to play that game. Everyone says something that sounds smart and ends up taking Michael Connelly to the beach.”

6:45 A.M. In and out of the bedroom while packing, so I hear bits of an NPR story about New Orleans music—second line, bump.

7:10 A.M. Bag ready, kids still asleep, I turn to my two ongoing Wordscraper games on Facebook. There are ample reasons to like and loathe Facebook, and I can’t justify its existence or my participation in it, but what I can do is blame Nora Ephron. Her essay about her online Scrabble addiction led me into a world I (happily) never knew existed: the world of Scrabulous. Soon, I was the closest I’ve ever come to an illicit online activity, playing rapid-fire games with total strangers who slaughtered me mercilessly. And then a friend told me we could play via Facebook, which I’d assumed was off-limits to any self-respecting adult over twenty-five. (Many would argue this is still the case.) It was the beginning of the end.

7:21 A.M. Slate. Dana Stevens, like every other critic I’ve read so far, confirms my sense that Sex and the City 2 is an abomination upon womankind. William Saletan is in a dust-up with The National Review.

8:07 A.M. WNYC in the car to Newark Airport. Bob Henley, did you have to use the word “confab”? I’ll answer that: no, you did not. Long, depressing, infuriating story about the oil spill. Scott Simon riffs on airport security.

8:40 A.M. Turns out leaving Newark on Saturday during Memorial Day weekend is a breeze. I’m in and out of security faster than you can say “Scott Simon.” Which only leaves me more time to suffer the plague of modern travel: the CNN airport onslaught.

9:00 A.M. Joy! My iPod John Prine Pandora station is working. So long, CNN.

9:05 A.M. Rats. Pandora no longer working. Time to plug into Syd Straw’s “Pink Velour.”

9:30 A.M. iPod battery dead. CNN rage returns. Half-hour report that began with the dubious claim that “Some people don’t know how expensive college can be” has been deemed “incredible” by the anchor. That’s one word for it.

9:35 A.M. Twitter. A blogger loves James Hynes’s Next. And this is one reason why I love Twitter.

10:15 A.M. Plane prepares for takeoff and I’ve left my New Yorker in the overhead bin and I can’t turn on my e-reader or iPod. Media withdrawal begins.

10:30 A.M. Manuscript on e-reader for the short duration of the flight.

2:15 P.M. Waiting to meet Pelecanos in hotel lobby. French Open! I haven’t seen any of it yet. Nadal v. Hewitt for five minutes, then George and I head for Toronto’s Greektown, and a great Greek feast.

4:30 P.M. Manuscripts; nap.

6:30 P.M. Hammett Awards, where I say hello to Walter Mosley and meet Jedediah Barry, whose novel The Manual of Detection is one of the prize finalists.

10:00 P.M. After the ceremony, drinks with George, Canadian writers Linwood Barclay and Giles Blunt, and wonderful Deon Meyer, the South African writer who is here as an international guest of honor. They all seem to know an awful lot about films, soundtracks, motorcycles, and cars. I guess now’s not the time to bring up The Real Housewives.


6:00 A.M. Waiting for an early flight home. This time I’ve got The New Yorker on hand, making me interested in things that don’t interest me: Danica Patrick and Mexican drug wars. Impossibly brutal photo of a man who’s been executed.

8:30 A.M. Home in time to read The New York Times as if I’d never left. My Sunday Times reading always goes like this: Styles, Week in Review, front section, Sports, Business. From the party pictures I learn that artists like Brice Marden and Kiki Smith grow old gracefully, with silver hair and a satisfied glow about them. Weddings features an excellent bridal name: Dimple Chaudhary, and the official union of Koenig and Solomon, who have already been together for forty years. Scott (my husband) pokes his head in the living room to report that LeAnn Hansen just announced she’s retiring from Weekend Edition Sunday. Week in Review: J. M. Coetzee’s South African censor. Verlyn Klinkenborg on “texts” vs. “books.” Dowd. Friedman. Rich. Front section (I’m sure it has an official name, right?): Margot Fonteyn’s failed Panamanian coup, yet another UK minister resigns for financial misdeeds, and in the Dennis Hopper obituary I learn that he was married to Brooke Hayward. How did that escape me? Sports: Alex Rodriguez smacked a line drive into the forehead of a Cleveland Indian and left the game to make sure he was alright. Andy Roddick is out of the French Open.

12:00 P.M. My first day at our local pool, where it looks like at last the kids are self-sufficient and drown-proof enough to let me read uninterrupted. I’ve packed the galley of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which keeps me happily occupied for the next three hours.

6:30 P.M. Our Sunday evening routine: Scott makes dinner while I sit nearby and tackle the Times Magazine crossword. On Pandora: Ron Sexsmith radio. Heaven.

8:00 P.M. Franzen’s Freedom.

9:00 P.M. Catch up on the “Gavin and Stacey” episodes we’d missed. If you don’t love this weirdly sweet and wonderful BBC series, to quote an old Doonesbury line that is probably far too obscure: “Your loss, toots!”


5:00 A.M. Up early to edit a manuscript. Quick Twitter check: M.I.A.’s fight with Lynn Hirschberg, more BP oil outrage. Facebook: scan updates, make my Wordscraper moves.

7:00 A.M. Making breakfast for the kids, half-listening to NPR and something about activists killed in Gaza. This sounds big, and happened too recently to be in the print edition of the paper, so I turn on the laptop and read about it online. Grim.

7:30 A.M. The New York Times. The always interesting David Carr on the sale of Newsweek. Venus Williams and Andy Murray are out of the French Open. A teenage girl is pitching for a men’s baseball team.

8:30 A.M. Quick trip to the nursery for patio herb garden, happily blasting WFUV. Fountains of Wayne. Martin Sexton, I’m not sure the words “pay-per-view TV” should ever be used in a song lyric.

9:30 A.M. Yoga, where the playlist often mirrors my own iPod, and today includes the Cowboy Junkies’ great cover of “Sweet Jane,” which reminds me of a good line in the Franzen when a character says the Velvet Underground always makes her feel lonely.

12:30 P.M. Franzen at the pool.

5:30 P.M. Richard Thompson Radio on Pandora. Fantastic Wilco cover of “James Alley Blues,” from The Harry Smith Project, which I promptly buy online.

10:00 P.M. Real Housewives of New Jersey. Like some of my other media habits, I have a hard time explaining or justifying my obsession with all things Housewife. I can only say I love every hideous thing about them. Except tonight, when Danielle proves that she’s not just unpleasant, she’s totally off her rocker, and Teresa throws a birthday party for her nine-year-old daughter that is truly horrifying. Tonight may be the end of the affair for me.

Check back tomorrow for the second installment of Reagan Arthur’s Culture Diary. Arthur is the editorial director of Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, and Company.