Because I’m a creature of habit, and because my body has no idea how to sleep in just one morning a week, I’m typically up and about by 6:30 on Sunday mornings, just the same as every other day. The difference is that I don’t go for a run (unless my schedule has been interrupted during the week), I don’t do work before I’ve had breakfast–which I’m happy to delay until later in the morning as long as I can get my hands on some coffee, and I refuse to make lists of all the things I could be getting accomplished. Instead, I sit in front of my computer and cruise around for things that catch my eye.
When I was a kid, Sunday mornings meant breakfast, church, and then home to the Sunday New York Times. As I grew older there was less church going, but the paper remained a staple, covering most of the dining table and a good chunk of the coffee table as my parents sprawled with its different sections. I, inevitably, read section 2 (the arts section), and the Book Review. Those were the days when the paper was entirely black and white, and the newsprint still coated your finger tips within a matter of a few pages. I would read the reviews from cover to cover, despite having little interest in many of the titles. I liked books, all books, just on principle, even if I wasn’t about to pick up a hulking political biography or some scientific doorstop at the age of ten.
Later I added the magazine section. I would gamely try my hand at the week’s crossword, and get quite excited when I knew any of the answers. I would read William Safire’s column on language–first as an assignment from my 9th grade English teacher and later because I enjoyed it. By my senior year I was poking at a few more sections, checking out what was happening in the world. I never read the paper from start to finish–the business section bored me to tears and I had no use for real estate–but I skimmed and/or read a pretty good portion of the rest of the paper.
Then I left for college in Chicago, land of the Tribune. I didn’t particularly like the Tribune. It was in color, for one thing, which struck me as wrong. I suspect part of my disinclination to read it also came from the overflowing reading list I had of course materials, and a stubborn need to read for pleasure (this means novels) even during the school year when there was little time to do so. As a result, my paper reading fell by the wayside, though I would still venture out to the bookstore on the odd Sunday and pick up a copy of the New York Times. I was loyal. And I missed the Book Review.
After I had moved home and started working, I’d read the paper sporadically, picking it up a few days during the week and then again on Sundays. When I worked in finance, I read it more faithfully, and suddenly that business section made a lot more sense to me than it did when I was a kid. But I couldn’t help but notice that the price of the paper kept going up, while the paper itself kept shrinking. The Sunday edition, in particular, felt much lighter than it did when I was in school. I suppose I could claim it was like everything else that seems to shrink as you get older–a matter of perspective–but my parents agreed that there just didn’t seem to be as much news in the newspaper as there was a decade earlier.
Moving to Los Angeles cured my addiction to the New York Times. This had nothing to do with the quality of the paper, or any superiority of LA’s own daily, The Los Angeles Times. Rather, it was a combination of financial considerations and the availability of the paper online. I was jobless at the time, just starting to freelance, and watching every penny. This meant that I was getting almost all of my news and information from the internet (courtesy of my $19.95 a month dial-up connection) rather than shelling out hard-earned cash that could otherwise go toward things like groceries. I had every intention of renewing my regular paper reading habits once I was solvent, but it just never happened.
I could say that I’m to blame for the demise of newspapers, along with many other people just like myself. But the reality is, if I read more of the paper, I would buy it. These days, I hit the various newspapers’ websites once a week at most, and then only when I’m following a link. Much of the information available at these sites is also covered elsewhere, and their print-on-paper editions feel thin and unsubstantial for the money. This morning I briefly considered taking a walk to the corner coffee shop and grabbing a copy of the New York Times–but I didn’t feel like dropping $10 for coffee and the paper, which I would have, given the out-of-town surcharge.
So far today I’ve read about the Navy SEALs killed in Afghanistan, the riot in London, and the Verizon strike. But I’ve also read Tom Lutz’s excellent story on the recent layoffs–of book reviewers–at the LA Times, and what that means for journalism and books in general; Sherwood Smith’s blog post, A Mill Pond as Wide as the Sea, about female versus male slang and gender attitudes in Jane Austen and other writers of her day; and several posts from the August edition of Bookslut. This is Sunday reading according to personal interests, the pick-and-choose method of self-education. Reading online allows one the breadth that cannot be achieved through a single Sunday edition of a major metropolitan newspaper. It is reading for the remote-control generation, we who constantly jump to the next thing of interest, searching for kernels and tidbits. The internet caters to all interests at once, something a newspaper could never hope to do in this age of budget cuts. Is the attraction that I’m reading for free? Ultimately, I don’t think so. If I could pay just for what I read, as opposed to shelling out for an entire newspaper and reading only 2-3 articles, I would gladly do so. I am, after all, paying to access the internet in the first place, even if that money fails to trickle down to those offering content. For me, the attraction is the diversity of information, and the ability to read extensively on the subjects that interest me most.
I do not claim that no one reads deeply anymore, though this is an accusation that has been bandied about with increased frequency. I agree that the internet has helped to shorten our attention spans by encouraging us to leap to the next thing, but it does not stand to reason that we are thereby incapable of sitting still and getting absorbed in something longer: an entire newspaper, a great book, a long film. Of course we can. And Sundays, at least in my mind, are designed for that sort of leisure reading or lazy movie viewing. Sundays are the perfect excuse to curl up with a mug of coffee and a fat novel and ignore the computer for a while. But life is busy and keeps moving faster, which makes those Sunday hours all the more precious. Whatever grabs my attention for a Sunday on the couch has to earn it.
Breakfast is over, e-mails answered, and I’ve taken my peek into the world at large–as depressing an activity as that can be. I’m ready to step away from my computer, top off my coffee, and settle in for a few hours of blissful reading. My choice for today? Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, which has been sitting on my nightstand for two weeks, anxiously calling my name.