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The Reading List

What five New Yorkers read for a week, from personal ads to Georges Bataille’s The Unfinished System of Non-Knowledge.


Last spring, New York asked five locals to record everything they ate for a week. This September, as part of our ongoing attempt to catalogue the raw data of daily life, we asked another five New Yorkers to chronicle everything they read. From the 12th to the 18th, they made a note of all the text that passed before their eyes, no matter how inconsequential. (In an act of modesty, we omitted references to this magazine.)

The results of our admittedly tiny, completely nonrepresentative survey show that, yes, New Yorkers still read contemporary fiction in bed—good contemporary fiction, even. But they also scan flyers in clubs, stare at subway ads, skim magazines in the doctor’s office, peruse old cookbooks at bars, and find time for The Republic in the middle of the street. (Okay, so Plato was coursework.) They graze, rather than contemplate, shifting from desk to sofa to kitchen table to restaurant and back again.

They also forage at separate fields on the media farm: the deep pastures of literary fiction and foreign policy; the shallow meadows of glossy fashion magazines; the hardscrabble dirt of informational journalism.

And they surf Websites, at all hours. Our diaries confirm one piece of conventional media wisdom: The computer screen is the future of reading. Most of our subjects spent more time browsing than turning pages, and they directed their computers to every corner of the Internet, from blogs to foreign newspapers.

It’s good to see that, for at least one of our readers, the handwritten love letter survives. But the main thing they had in common? E-mail. Lots and lots and lots of e-mail.

The Surfer
Dave K. Williams, writer-producer of TV promos, 32

9:30–9:50 A.M. Subway On-air pitch scripts for USA Network presentation, 5 pages
10:30–noon Postproduction facility 20 e-mails; concert reviews;; “Sports” page;;—“I’m ambivalent about Drudge, but he has all the news Websites linked.”
2–2:15 P.M., Major Payne—“Movie research for promo project”
2:30–3, prescription plan
4–4:30 People, pictures only
4:30–5, The Amazing Race family profiles
5–5:30, The Pillowman story; E! Online, Crudup-Parker story—“A friend invited me to see it.”
10–10:05 Knitting Factory Cigarette-ad panels—“I saw a hip-hop act called Smif-N-Wessun. They started very late.”

9:30–9:50 A.M. Subway ads between naps—NYU, Dr. Zizmor, MTA; The Onion, 10 pages
10:30–11:10 Office 10 e-mails
11:10–11:30 Rottentomatoes .com, 7 reviews of Me and You and Everyone We Know
11:30–noon E-mail fight with friend
1–1:30 P.M.;;—“My first internship was on the Howard Stern show”
2–3 Postproduction facility New York Times “Sports” section: football recap, baseball playoffs, 10 pages
3–3:15—“For my third jump”

10–10:30 A.M. Subway Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris, 15 pages
11–noon Office 15 e-mails
Noon–12:10 P.M. E-mail and text message from brother—“He’s going to be in Days of Our Lives
1–1:30 Postproduction facility music reviews;;;; SternFan
3–4:;;, reading about Little Brother—“A hip-hop group. There’s a big controversy over their new video”
4–4:30, searching for press machine for T-shirt venture
5–5:30 Time Out New York, fall events for singles, possible bar to host birthday, 5 pages
8–8:20 Subway Vibe magazine, Luther Vandross tribute—“Finally!”
10–11 Home, roster and schedule

10–10:10 A.M. Office Fox News TV ticker, NBC News TV ticker
10:30–11 Postproduction facility 20 e-mails; Hurricane Katrina stories:,,
Noon–12:30 P.M., acting workshops
2–2:05, Little Brother story
3–3:20, “Welcome to Jamrock” story
3:30–4:30 message boards and reviews
4:30–4:35 Premiere, Broken Flowers review, 2 pages
5:30–6 Maxim, “Hometown Hotties,” 10 pages;, Benny Hill bio
6–6:30;—“I’m thinking about going for the Cannabis Cup”
8:30–8:40 Times Square Duane Reade eyedrops boxes
10–10:05 B.B. King’s Blues Club Hip-hop flyers—“I saw Little Brother”

9–10 A.M. Downtown 1 Train New York Daily News, entire paper including crossword puzzle
10–10:30 Office 15 e-mails
11 A.M.–1 P.M. Postproduction facility Daily Variety; “The Boondocks”;, friend’s Website;, Friday quotes;, Sin City reviews;, New York Giants;, Little Brother New York concert review
3–3:10, “Butt Seriously” article—“Forwarded by a friend. Big butts are back.”
3:30–3:50 Days of Our Lives message boards
7–7:30 Neighbor’s apartment The Cannabible and The Cannabible 2, 50 pages
10–10:20 Home Ten-year-old love letter from ex-girlfriend, 20 pages—“She was the love of my life”
10:20–10:35—“Researching conversion. This is what bad breakups will do to you.”

4–4:15 P.M. Daphne’s Caribbean Express Jamaica map and history on menu
5–6 Friend’s apartment real-estate listings
7–7:30 Home, celebrity birthdays on 9/30—“My birthday”
9–9:01 Text-message with friend
10–10:05 Subway 3 text messages
1–1:25 A.M. Friend’s apartment, profile of friend while friend performs fellatio

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