Q: What’s the first thing you read in the morning?
A. I’m a total radiohead and have been since I was a kid, so my first move is to listen to the news on NPR, wishing it were better and silently cursing the complacent presenters. Then I check the BBC website for the big stories and also for soccer news, which occupies a lot of my time. My family is from Liverpool and Liverpool Football Club is my only religious commitment. Then I check The New York Times website, which is my major news source throughout the day.
Q: What newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly? What do you read in print vs. online vs. mobile?
A. I’m really online a lot these days. I read the print version of the NYTimes at the weekend, New York Magazine (I love the Approval Matrix), The New Yorker, which makes me feel like an urban sophisticate. But I keep switching my subscriptions. Last year, I got the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books, but couldn’t keep up and it depressed me. My 19-year-old son who lives in England got me a subscription to Private Eye, which was a lovely, dirty pleasure.
Q: What books have you recently read? How do they stand out?
A. I read obsessively and too narrowly and hate myself for it. I am writing a book on Hamlet at the moment and am therefore immersed in oceans of Shakespeare scholarship. I read fast and laterally and then dive into pages that catch my eye. For light relief, right now I’m reading John Donne’s early poetry and a wonderful collection of Medieval English Lyrics by R.T. Davies. I’m also working on my Attic Greek, which is really painful and have been reading Aristotle’s Poetics really slowly and getting a lot out of it.
Q: What is the best article you’ve read recently?
A. I read 20 things at a time. It’s a failing, I know. Right now, I am preparing for a conversation with Mark Mazower from Columbia at the New York Public Library, and have been reading his work on the history of human rights, and the implicit imperialism within the concept of civilization. Fascinating.
Q: Has your reading of professional journals changed in the past 10 years?
A. Not really, apart from the shift from print to online. Another thing I do is have a circle of people who send me things and who I trust. I always read what I am sent immediately. I see it as a kind of gift.
Q: Do you read blogs? If so, what blogs do you like best?
A. My approach to blogs is really scattershot and has no clear pattern. I work for The New York Times on The Stone, which has been a long and really enjoyable roller-coaster ride.
Q: Do you use Twitter? If so, whom do you follow?
A. Publicists keep trying to get me to use Twitter, but I haven’t got there yet. There is a fake Twitter feed in my name, together with any number of fake Facebook pages. As a fan of inauthenticity, the fakery amuses me.
Q: What are the guilty pleasures in your media diet?
A. OK. Full disclosure. My 8-year-old introduced me to Rathergood.com, which is brilliant, especially ‘Punk Kittens’, ‘We like the Moon’ and a section called ‘Misheard Lyrics’. I also spend an indecent amount of time listening to music on YouTube. Last week, I was having a one-man Wire revival, a fantastic band from the late 1970s. This week, I am immersed in Anthony and the Johnsons, whom I saw last week in a breathtaking beautiful show at Radio City Music Hall.
Sketch by Ted Benson