The Sporadic Beaver

Ten Days Without the Times

February 25, 2013

Tags: The New York Times, Joan Didion, Junot Díaz

My wife, the Mistress of Syntax, likes to have The New York Times delivered, and when I know the paper's lurking outside the door, I can't resist reading it first thing in the morning. I also know that a half hour of total immersion in all the news that's fit to print about looming economic catastrophe, militarized computer hacking, and the latest Republican plot to hijack what's left of the democratic process, topped off with a dose of David Brooks's and Thomas Friedman's utter bullshit, will, by the time I need to put down the paper and get breakfast going, leave me feeling despondent. Reading the Times is hazardous to my mental health, and it should come with such a warning.

That's why, when my wife went out of town for ten days, I suspended the subscription. Instead, I began my day with a book. The first book I read was Joan Didion's Political Fictions, in part a bracing analysis of why much of what passes for "objective" political reporting in the Times (and elsewhere) is little more than a fantasy that the people in power and the journalists who cover them have agreed to tell. And though the book made me angry, it was a pure and satisfying kind of anger that confirmed my worst suspicions and brought me to a higher level of understanding, rather than leaving me feeling despondent and helpless.

The book I’m reading now, This Is How You Lose Her, a collection of short stories, by Junot Díaz, is literature in the best sense of that word. Díaz is all about voice—the natural voice of the street—as much as he’s about storytelling, and it’s the kind of writing that inspires and motivates me, which is the highest compliment I can pay any author.

But Díaz will have to wait, because tonight the wife returns, and that means tomorrow morning, The New York Times will again be lurking outside the door, and I will not be able to resist its siren call, and I will give myself over to the illusion that if I read it, I will know what’s happening in the world.