Q. What’s the first thing you read in the morning?
A. I usually read The New York Times—the front page, Op-Ed, Business, and Arts sections; Slate—especially anything written by Dahlia Lithwick, Christopher Hitchens, or Emily Bazelon—and the San Francisco Chronicle. If there’s something especially important happening overseas, I also read the BBC News page online.
Q. What newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly? What do you read in print versus online versus mobile?
A. I subscribe to The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, and I’m a regular Slate reader—I read them in print and online, depending on where I am. I also subscribe to The New Yorker and Esquire. The iPad apps for the Times, Chronicle, and Slate are all quite good. The Esquire app is fabulous—a case study in how to exploit a new medium.
Q. What books have you recently read? Do they stand out?
A. My colleague Rick Banks’s new book Is Marriage for White People? is a brave and important new book. Right now I’m reading a novel by the great Italian crime writer Andrea Camilleri entitled The Potter’s Field. And I’ve been poring over my own latest books: Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality and Universal Rights Down to Earth—both dealing in very different ways with the limitations of rights thinking and legal entitlements as a way to achieve social justice.
Q. Has your reading of professional journals changed in the past 10 years? How so?
A. Yes, quite a lot. Now almost everything is online, with services such as HeinOnline, Social Science Research Network, and JSTOR. As a result, the actual journal doesn’t matter much anymore—I simply type in the title, author, or subject matter and pull up the article I need. It’s made hunting down a publication in the stacks almost obsolete—a shame in a way, but all in all a huge improvement in terms of efficiency.
Q. Do you read blogs? If so, what blogs do you like best?
A. I’m not a big fan of blogs generally—too much bad writing, sloppy thinking, and vitriol. But there are exceptions. I like Balkinization and the Volokh Conspiracy for legal commentary. My favorite blogs are those that make use of the media in interesting ways—text is typically better done when professional editors are involved, but sometimes blogs that use text plus video or photos offer something traditional media can’t duplicate. For instance, The Sartorialist is a great “blog” that consists almost entirely of photos. The photographer also publishes in magazines, but the collection of photos available on his site provides an experience that is more than the sum of its parts. Small Screen Network, with Robert Hess, is a great site with recipes for cocktails and video showing proper technique—something a book or magazine article can’t offer.
Q. Do you use Twitter? If so, whom do you follow?
A. I think Twitter is a social scourge, surpassed in its menace only by Facebook. Honestly, when I first heard the idea, I thought it was a spoof. I don’t follow anyone on Twitter—I have enough digital noise in my life already, thanks. That said, yes, I “use” both because I’m told one must do so to reach the younger generation of readers. So I’ve set up accounts for book promotion and to “tweet” (I suppose) my own horn about other publications and public lectures.
Q. What are the guilty pleasures in your media diet?
A. I don’t feel guilty about it, but the less somber publications I read include Esquire (it contains some very good serious journalism, but I admit I read it primarily for style, food, and drink reviews); The Rake, a men’s style magazine from Singapore that, following in the usual pattern of former colonies, is more British than anything published in Great Britain; the Sartorialist, the Times Food and Style sections, and almost anything related to classic cocktails. I will turn to a good mystery novel before any other genre—my favorites are Andrea Camilleri, Michael Dibdin, P.D. James, and Ruth Rendell, and the classics—Hammett, Chandler, and Christie.
Sketch by Ted Benson