Alan Lightman is an adjunct professor of humanities, creative writing, and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Q: What’s the first thing you read in the morning?
A: The first thing I read in the morning is the front page of The New York Times. The second thing is the editorial page of the Times, and then the Op-Ed page.
Q: What newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly? What do you read in print vs. online vs. mobile?
A: I subscribe to The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Concord Journal (I live in Concord, Massachusetts, about 15 miles west of Boston), The Week, American Art Review, and Fine Art Connoisseur.
I still do most of my reading in hard-copy print, but if I am on the Internet it is hard to avoid breaking news items, such as Bristol Palin Dancing With the Stars, or the latest rehab of Lindsay Lohan.
Q: What books have you recently read?
A: Books I have read in the last couple of months are: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy; Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger (a reread); The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John Le Carré; the Bhagavad Gita; and the galleys of The Most Human Human, by Brian Christian.
Q: What’s the most surprising thing you have recently read?
A: The most surprising thing I read recently was an Op-Ed piece titled “Why We Gave Liu Xiaobo a Nobel,” by Thorbjorn Jagland (chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee), appearing in The New York Times on October 23. This is the first time, I believe, that the Nobel Prize Committee has ever felt it necessary to publicly justify why they gave a Nobel Prize in Peace, the Sciences, or Literature. Their deliberations have generally been kept highly secretive, although they always publish a citation of the recipients’ accomplishments. In this piece, Jagland essentially says that we are all part of one global community now and that international human rights laws transcend the individual nation states.
Q: Do you read blogs? If so, what blogs do you like best?
A: I rarely read blogs. I know that there are good ones out there, but there are just too many gigabytes flooding our brains, and life is short.
Q: Do you use Twitter? If so, whom do you follow?
A: I do not use Twitter, although I admire the brevity of the form, like haikus.
Q: What are the guilty pleasures in your media diet?
A: For fun, I will occasionally read something far outside my usual genres, such as a novel by John Le Carré or Elmore Leonard, or an issue of Glamour magazine (which is far racier than any of the men’s magazines). These kinds of things keep me abreast with popular culture.—Evan R. Goldstein
Sketch by Ted Benson