The Reading List

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.

Photo: Donald Bowers

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 facility20 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 FactoryCigarette-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 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 facility20 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 Readeeyedrops boxes
10–10:05 B.B. King’s Blues Club Hip-hop flyers—“I saw Little Brother”

9–10 A.M. Downtown 1 TrainNew York Daily News, entire paper including crossword puzzle
10–10:30 Office 15 e-mails
11 A.M.–1 P.M. Postproduction facilityDaily 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 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

11 A.M.–noon Home, NFL matchups
3–3:10 Booth Theater Playbill, The Pillowman, 12 pages
8–8:20 Friend’s, read friend’s daily blog entry
8:30-8:45 New York Daily News, Emmy nominations, 5 pages

Photo: Donald Bowers

The Globalist
Nicole Aragi, literary agent, 43

5:45–5:47 A.M. Desk at home, “Too Soon to Tell” op-ed—“I don’t normally get up this early, but all the foreign publishers were in town that month.”
6–6:01, “Emmy Hope for Briton Shot in Gaza”—“I’m half-English, half-Lebanese, so I always read the English papers.”
6:01–6:04, “Lahoud Is Being Isolated by His Own Illusions of Grandeur,” “Sampling Lebanon’s Growing Wine Industry”
6:05–6:10, travel info on Shanghai, “Jubilant Palestinians Enter Gaza Settlements,” “Sorry Mr. President, Katrina Is Not 9/11,” “Tax Avoidance ‘Keeps Developing World Poor’ ”
6:10–6:13, “UN Fears an Unhappy Birthday As Rows Threaten Summit,” “Extreme Organic,” “Belgian Priest Denies Inciting Rwanda Killings”
6:15–6:16, “Understanding Writers, Down to the Letter. How Do Authors Think?”
6:30–7:15 E-mail
7:15–8:15 Sofa eating breakfastThree chapters of manuscript by Nathan Englander—“I normally read 2-3 manuscripts a week.”
8:30–8:55 Kitchen table Revised draft of Farrar, Straus & Giroux book contract for Amin Maalouf, 10 pages
9:01–11 Desk E-mail
12:20–12:30 P.M. Le Zie Chapter of manuscript by Nathan Englander—“I arrived early for lunch.”
2:30–4:30 Desk E-mail
9–9:30 E-mail
10–10:15 In bed The New Yorker, “An Ex-Mas Feast,” by Uwen Akpan, 11 pages
10:20–10:50 The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, by George Saunders, 84 pages—“A tight, sad, hard little book. I loved it.”

6:15–6:20 A.M. Kitchen table The Stranger, random articles—“I had an impulse to subscribe. I’ve never lived in Seattle, but it’s nice to have a glimpse of another city.”
6:20–6:35 Desk, “Bush Accepts ‘Full Responsibility’ for Katrina Failures,” “Race Not an Issue in Katrina Disaster, Says Bush,” “Death in Bobur Square”
7:30–9 E-mail—“E-mail takes up most of my day—editors, writers. I don’t e-mail anyone socially.”
12:45–3 P.M. E-mail
8–8:30 E-mail
9:45–10:10 E-mail
10:45–11:05 In bed The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, 45 pages

8–8:03 A.M. Desk, “Scores Killed in Baghdad Blasts,” “Iraqi Farmer Describes Assault by Seven British Soldiers,” “Nairobi Dispatch—The Place Where Bad Things Happen”
8:05–8:06 New York Times, “A Fatal Incuriosity” op-ed, “Congress Finesses the Storm” op-ed
8:15–8:20, “Brazilian’s Family Hears Defence of Shoot-to-Kill,” “Bush Makes the First Visit to Ravaged New Orleans Since Katrina,” “Man Kills Assistant at Beauty Counter Then Shoots Himself,” “Recycling Rates Soar in England, But Still Trail Europeans”
8:30–8:40;;, “What Is Atheism Really All About?” “Coming Out—Atheism: The Other Closet,” “Quotations Related to Atheism,” “Questions for the Christians—How Many Atheists in America?”—“I was arguing with a Christian.”
8–9 P.M. Desk E-mails
10:40–10:43, “Revealed: BAE’s Secret, £1m to Pinochet,” “Ignorance and Abdication That Amounts to Madness”
10:45–11:15 E-mail
11:30–11:50 In bed Bangkok Tattoo, by John Burdett, 30 pages

5–5:10 A.M. Stack of cushions in the living room Chapter of manuscript by Julie Otsuka
6–6:20 Desk printout, articles by Robert Fisk, “Baghdad: The Bloodiest Day,” “Why Is It That We and America Wish Civil War on Iraq?” “People Torn to Pieces, Relatives Scream—Another Week in the Theme Park of Death,” “There Are Now Two Baghdads,” “What Does Democracy Really Mean in the Middle East? Whatever the West Decides,” “In Iraq, Man-Made Disaster”
12:20–12:22 P.M., “This Happy Few Actually Read Books” message board, “A Little Less Conversation,” by Tirdad Zolghadr—“I read this site casually. I was probably on the phone.”
6–7:45 E-mails
10:15–10:50 E-mails
11:15–11:30 In bed Bangkok Tattoo, 25 pages

5–5:02 A.M. Desk, “Cruising for a Bruising,” “The Petulant President”
5:02–5:03, “Global Warming Past the Point of No Return,” “US Poultry Giant Under Fire After Segregation Scandal Is Revealed”
5:03–5:04 New York Times, “Not the New Deal” op-ed
6:15–6:20 standing at the kitchen table Publishers Weekly, skimmed—“I read most of it on e-mail”
6:45–9:45 desk E-mail
10:30–11:25 E-mail
12:15–12:50 P.M. E-mail
3:30–4 E-mail
7–8:30 E-mail
10:15–11 in bed Bangkok Tattoo, 60 pages

7:20–7:30 A.M. Desk, “Radical Plan to Stop Muslim Extremism, “Terrorism Measures: Blows to Democracy,” “US Conservatives Round on Bush Over Katrina Aid Pledges”
7:30–7:35, “Asylum Seeker Kills Himself So Child Can Stay in Britain,” “Schröder vs. Merkel: A Tale of Two Germanys”
7:35–7:37, “Election on Knife Edge As Merkel’s Lead Goes Up in Smoke,” “Mugabe Spurned Loan in Fury Over Conditions”
7:45–7:47, “Grants Alone Will Not Solve Lebanon’s Debt Crisis”
8:30–1 P.M. E-mail
3:15–4 E-mail
4–4:10 The New Yorker, “Storm Warnings,” “Briefly Noted,” “Wind on Capitol Hill,” “High Stakes”
4:15–4:20 printout, “A Little Less Conversation,” by Tirdad Zolghadr, 6 pages
4:30–4:35 The New Yorker,,, reviews of movies Everything Is Illuminated, The Future of Food, One Bright Shining Moment
4:35–4:45 Topic, “Final Respects,” “Consumer Terrorism,” “How Hate Appears,” 10 pages
4:45–7 E-mail
11:30 P.M.–12:30 A.M. In bed Bangkok Tattoo, 70 pages

7–7:15 A.M. Desk, “The Uses of Invention,” “How the Penguin’s Life Story Inspired the US Religious Right,” “Bird Brains—US Christian Right Misfires Again,” “Blair Attacks BBC Over ‘Anti-US Bias,’ ” “Germans Set to Give Merkel Grudging Win,” “This Is a Mess of Our Own Making”
7:30–8:30 E-mail
12:15–12:19 P.M. Living-room sofa The New Yorker, “Turbulence,” by David Sedaris, 1 page
12:30–1 Voices From Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich, 40 pages
1:15–1:45 Living-room sofa What Happened Here, by Eliot Weinberger, 2 chapters
4:30–4:31, Everything Is Illuminated movie review—“I represent Jonathan Safran Foer”
4:32–4:33, “Dream On: Stories Feed the City of New Orleans”
11–11:30 In bed Bangkok Tattoo, 45 pages

Photo: Donald Bowers

The Skimmer
Zenny Sanchez, concierge, 46

12:30–1:10 P.M. Bus to workLog Home Design Ideas, 164 pages—“We were going to build a log home, but ended up buying a cedar chalet. I still subscribe to the magazines—the pictures are beautiful.”
5:45–6:15 Dinner break at workNew York Daily News, 22 pages
9–9:15 Break at workamNew York, 28 pages—“My favorite. It summarizes all the important stories.”
11:30–11:33 Home, article on septic systems—“A friend in Woodstock had to dig up her front yard due to septic problems”

Noon–1 P.M. Bus amNew York, entire paper; Neiman Marcus catalogue
5:30–6 Work New York Post, 12 pages
9–9:15 The Epoch Times, 2 pages—“Companies bring in free papers for promo purposes”
Midnight–1 A.M. HomeInStyle, 100 pages

11 A.M.–noon Bus New York Times, “Dining Out” and “Arts” sections
5–5:30 P.M. Work Us Weekly, 15 pages
9:15–9:30 New York Living, 8 pages
12:15–12:43 A.M. E-mails
12:45–1:20 New York Daily News, 40 pages

noon–12:50 P.M. BusNew York Daily News, 50 pages
5:30–5:55 Work New York Post, 20 pages
11 P.M.–midnight HomeElle, entire magazine—“A lot of tenants at my building give me magazines. I never buy any.”
12:45–1:05 A.M. E-mails

10–11:45 A.M. Doctor’s office Vogue, entire magazine
9:50–11 P.M. Home New York Daily News, entire paper
11:05–11:20 P.M. Home E-mails

11–11:45 A.M. HomeCountry’s Best Log Homes, 30 pages
12:30–1 P.M. Log Home Living, 20 pages
11–1:10 A.M. New York Daily News, entire paper

4–5 P.M. Home The Catskill Mountain Region Guide, 40 pages
9:30–9:55 E-mails
10–11:35, searching for vegetarian diets

Photo: Donald Bowers

The Student
David Gerson, English major at Columbia University, 20

8:30–11:25 A.M. Flight from Miami to La Guardia Airport The Republic, by Plato, Books 1–3, 96 pages—“It’s a Contemporary Lit requirement. Every sophomore is reading it now.”
2:33–2:35 P.M. English DepartmentEnglish-major requirements sheet
6:30–6:40 Dorm room 11 e-mails
10:52–10:58 Le hollandais sans peine, by Marie-Aude Murail, 4 pages— “French class. It’s a children’s story.”
12:35–12:45 A.M. 8 e-mails
12:45–12:55 Le hollandais sans peine, 8 pages

8:36–8:39 A.M. Dorm room 4 e-mails
12:46–12:51 P.M. Broadway between 113th and 116th Streets New York Times, front page of “Arts” section
3:52–5:17 Bench on 72nd Street Course packet, excerpts from Visions of Excess, On Nietzsche, The Unfinished System of Non-Knowledge, by Georges Bataille, 30 pages—“For my Extreme Literatures class. Bataille makes me tense.”
6:06–7:20 Dorm room Course packet, 26 pages

1:10–3:01 P.M. Nussbaum & Wu bakery, 113th Street at BroadwayThe Republic, Books 4–5, 50 pages
6:30–7:20 Dorm roomX-Andra: Compelled to Speak, by Amit Gazit and Tal Itzhaki, 35 pages— “It’s a play I was thinking of acting in”
7:20–7:22 Sur le vif, French textbook, 1 page
7:30–7:45 Le hollandais sans peine, 12 pages

9:15–9:25 A.M. Lerner HallSkimmed New York Times

4:20–5:26 P.M. Dorm roomCourse packet, 30 pages

4–4:36 P.M. Median at Broadway and 113th Street The Republic, Book 6, 15 pages
5:04–5:58 P.M. Riverside Park, 113th Street The Republic, Book 7, 30 pages

11:40–11:50 A.M. Dorm room 10 e-mails
11:50–noon and—“English drama schools. I’m thinking about studying acting in London.”
2–3:37 P.M. Riverside Park, waterfront and 97th street The Republic, Books 8–9, 54 pages
5:15–5:20 Dorm room Sur le vif, 2 pages
5:30–5:35 Lobby of dormNew York Times, front page and “Arts” section
5:45–6:15 Dorm room The Republic, Book 10, 11 pages
7:24–7:57 The Republic, Book 10, 12 pages
11:20–11:30 Photocopied excerpts from Encyclopedia Acephalia: Comprising the Critical Dictionary, edited by Georges Bataille, 4 pages
11:40–11:50 New York Times, article on Everything Is Illuminated

Photo: Donald Bowers

The Entrepreneur
Laurence Martin, partner in a graphic-design firm, 24

9:05–9:55 A.M. In bed Play It As It Lays, by Joan Didion, 63 pages— “A gift from my brother. Didion is a little too cool for me.”
11:15–11:20 Home officeYahoo News, “Business Owners May Return to New Orleans”
2:45–3:15 P.M. Phoebe’s Cafe Runner’s World, “The New Rules of Food,” 14 pages
12:30–1:20 A.M. In bed Play It As It Lays, 60 pages
1:25–1:37 The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, 10 pages—“Harrowing”

9:40–9:45 A.M. Home office 2 e-mails
9:45–9:50 Yahoo News, “Hopes for Recovery in New Orleans”
10:15–10:20 Yahoo News, “Roberts: Precedent Important for Abortion”
11:50–noon 3 e-mails
4–4:05 P.M. GoCARD offices Elle Décor, “People Now: Tord Boontje,” 2 pages—“GoCard distributes our guidebooks”
7:30–8:50 The bar at Good World Business 2.0, “Shop Talk,” “Mining Blogs for Marketing Insight,” “Tricks of the Trader,” “A Truly Sticky App,” “How Adobe Is Pushing Quark off the Page,” “Brewing Success From Failure,” “Thinking Outside the Shoe Box,” 12 pages—“I started my company a year ago, and I don’t have a business degree”

10:30–10:35 A.M. Friend’s apartmentBusiness 2.0, “The Perfect Pitch”
11:20–11:35 Landscape Cafe The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, 20 pages
12:55–1:10 P.M. Home office 3 e-mails
1:10–1:12, “Broken Toe”— “I ran into a metal filing cabinet”
1:12–1:17, “Une série d’attentats à Bagdad a fait plus de 130 morts”—“I’m half French”
2–4:04 On the couchThe Things They Carried, 89 pages
8:30–9:24 The Things They Carried, 40 pages
11:25–11:52 In bed The Things They Carried, 32 pages

9:22–9:58 A.M. Phoebe’s Cafe The Things They Carried, 29 pages
11:20–11:30 Home office 4 e-mails
6:42–7:30 P.M. Kitchen Kitchen for Kids, by Jennifer Low, “Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe—“Amazing”
11:34–12:03 A.M. In bedHistoires inédites du petit Nicolas, by Goscinny & Sempé, 39 pages—“I like artistic comic books”

10:30–11:10 A.M. Phoebe’s CafeElle Décor UK, “Atelier LZC,” “The New Pretty,” “Home Work,” 31 pages
Noon–12:10 P.M. Home office 4 e-mails


11:05–11:40 A.M. Kitchen The New York Times Magazine, “Building Stories: Part 1,” “Sideline Acrobats,” 8 pagesT: The New York Times Style Magazine, “Short Story,” “The Originals,” 4 pages
3:20–4 P.M. McCarren Park Vanity Fair, “Just Curious: The Journey of George’s Creators,” “A Matter of Life and Death,” 11 pages

7:10–7:40 P.M. Employees Only restaurant French Home Cooking Adapted to the Use of American Households, by Berthe Julienne Low, 10 pages—“I found it at Bonnie Slotnick’s in the Village. It’s an old, old cookbook. I love the way it’s typeset.”

The Reading List