How do people deal with the torrent of information that rains down on us all? What’s the secret to staying on top of the news without surrendering to the chaos of it? In this series, we ask people who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from an interview with Peggy Noonan, weekly columnist for the Wall Street Journal and author of eight books on American politics and culture.
I guess my headline is that I'm off the computer more and back to books. This didn't happen as a matter of resolve, it just evolved, and at increasing speed, over the past two years. I have the funny sense now when I'm reading a good book that I'm reading the news—it's fresh and important and happening now—and when I read the news I'm reading sort of tepid fiction. I don't feel that all the time but enough that I've noticed and wondered about it. I read at points during the day and at night.
I don't have subscriptions. I buy newspapers and magazines each day at local candy stores. I like to look at the headlines and pictures. Sometimes I buy UK papers. I like the UK Spectator. I read the Economist, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, New York, Foreign Affairs, sometimes Time, sometimes Vogue, but a problem with Vogue is that when I get it home, put it on the stand and pick it up a few days later to thumb through it, I get the sense I've already read it. This is true of almost all the fashion magazines. It's a great challenge for them to distinguish themselves from each other, and then distinguish each month from another.
I go on the Internet in the mornings and evenings, the same way I read the morning edition of the newspapers when I was a child. My Internet habits: I start with Drudge and his headlines—a great Drudge front page is like John Dos Passos. I go counterclockwise through specific links—the Daily Beast, Huffington Post, National Review Online, Politico, Real Clear Politics, then up the second column to Andrew Sullivan and Micky Kaus. I read Megan McArdle and James Fallows at your site. I read the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
While doing my morning rounds I usually watch Morning Joe. When I'm in my office I usually have cable on in the background but often low. You can tell if news is happening by how their voices and faces change. Also when a bulletin happens the cameras get still, they stop swooshing around.
I don't do news alerts or news feeds or e-letters, and I find podcasts slow and unsatisfying. I mean to go to Facebook more because the people are so nice, and I mean to follow some of the witty, anarchic tweeting that's going on, but usually forget to. I'm trying to do it more.
On books, I have an iPad and Kindle. I pay half the bookstore price when I buy e-books, but I notice I'm buying about twice as many books as I used to. So the publishing industry hasn't lost anything from me and has probably gained.
I prefer books because you can write in them, bend pages, start in the middle, read to the end and then go to the beginning. They always say you can do all that with e-books but it's hard. Also for reference purposes e-book indexes are impossible, at least for me. But e-books are cheaper, great for traveling, and allow for spontaneity in purchase. Amazon is always open. I still find it incredible that I can be on a train, think of a quote in a biography I once read of Tolstoy, Google around and find the name of the author, A.N. Wilson, order the book in one click and read it five minutes later. It's so exciting, and moving.
Right now I am reading a biography of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings. It's very good—I'd always thought him a silly man, but he wasn't. I'm also rereading The Cure of Ars by F. Trochu. It has all the documentation from his canonization and is fabulous. The bookstore I go to is the Corner Bookstore on 93rd Street and Madison Avenue in NYC. They're courteous and helpful and know their stock.