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My Daily Read: Rachel Shteir

Rachel Shteir is an associate professor at the Theatre School at DePaul University. She is the author, most recently, of The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting (Penguin Press).

Q: What do you read first thing in the morning?

A: New York Times online. I read the paper pretty thoroughly, of course the book reviews, but also all of (or most of) the news. I particularly like the Sunday style section and the Metro section. I like that feature on Sunday where the person describes their day and, of course, the wedding section. I do read “Modern Love.”

Actually, even before I read the NYT, I read e-mail, though reading isn’t really what I do to e-mail—mostly I delete it because mostly it’s junk e-mail—department store ads and Groupon coupons and other entreaties. If I have any Facebook messages, I read those. OK, I look at those.

Q: What newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly? What do you read in print vs. online vs. mobile?

A: I read a lot of newspapers and magazines online every day. After the Times, e-mail, and Facebook, I proceed to The New Republic, the Wall Street Journal, Tablet, Slate, The Daily Beast, and New York Magazine. Not in that order. I particularly love David Thomson in TNR. I love reading him and I wish he wrote more. He is like a delicious cookie especially when he writes about noir, but he is also very good on actors—any actors, and it is not that easy to write about actors. I only read Harper’s and The New Yorker in print form and of course that is not a daily exercise. I also read The New York Review of Books, but not daily.

But the first list I mentioned, I look at those five days a week, definitely. It’s probably a form of procrastinating but I guess I also feel I have to be conversant with what’s going on. Or that’s what I tell myself, anyway.

Q: What books have you recently read?  Do they stand out?

A: I just read a beautiful novel, Ten Thousand Saints. It’s a first novel by a young woman named Eleanor Henderson. It was moving and gorgeous, extremely fluidly written. It’s the story of a family or really several splintered families, kids and parents, lovers, exes, and how they all survive. It takes place in the 1980s and 1990s. The landscape is not unlike Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir.

I also recently finished Megan Abbott’s new book, The End of Everything, a tightly-paced psychological thriller. I have enormous admiration for those who write genre fiction because the plotting has to be really precise. And one thing I liked about this thriller is that there were so many women in it. I sometimes find it hard to get into a thriller if the detective is the typical reclusive middle-aged guy with girlfriend problems.

Q: Has your reading of professional journals changed in the past 10 years? How so?

If by professional journals you mean journals in the field I was trained in—dramaturgy and dramatic criticism—no. But that’s not a change. I was never really that interested in reading academic journals because I always wanted to write for a wider audience. I do turn to journals if I’m researching some specific topic—say Dario Fo and shoplifting in 1968—and then they can be very valuable, at least for their notes and bibliographies. But I find that for the most part the articles are overly argued or too theoretical. Not enough attention is paid to the enjoyment of reading and writing.

Q: Do you read blogs? If so, what blogs do you like best?

A: I do read shelter blogs such as Houzz. Other than that, I go through phases with blogs. For a while I was reading a blog called Arabic Literature in English which is published out of Cairo. It’s extremely knowledgeable about Arabic lit and is also a content aggregator for all things literary in the Middle East. I do like Megan Abbott and Sara Gran’s blog, The Abbott Gran Medicine Show, which I’ve also written for. They manage—maybe because there are two of them—to keep the tone fresh and interesting. Or maybe they’re just extremely witty because their blog can be witty. I do read The New Republic blogs. I read blogs to get info or opinions that I can’t get elsewhere.

Q: Do you use Twitter? If so, whom do you follow?

A: Yes. I use Twitter and I follow a variety of media and book people. For example, I follow the New York Times media critic David Carr. I follow Dwight Garner, the Times book critic. I follow some of my friends. I don’t think that Twitter is literary by any stretch of the imagination—sorry to those who are True Believers. But I think it’s important to know what’s going on and to see how people are using the device. Stuff actually happens on Twitter, whatever anyone thinks about it and if you’re going to be a modern person, you have to at least know what it is. I’m not saying you have to spend hours and hours tweeting your every move.

Q: What are the guilty pleasures in your media diet?

A: When I have free time, I often like to turn off my brain entirely. That does not always involve reading.  It sometimes involves television, if we’re going to talk about media. I didn’t grow up watching TV and I didn’t have TV for many years, so I feel like it’s OK. It involves shows like Entourage that I absolutely cannot approve of on an intellectual level and yet I find myself watching episode after episode, the TV equivalent of cotton candy. There is just something about all those beautiful people in Los Angeles that makes the show gripping. I also do watch a lot of procedurals, and The Good Wife. And I have an obsession with the Real Housewives series, particularly the New York one. But I’ve watched a lot of the other ones, including the one set in Atlanta. And the one in Orange County.

I do also spend probably too much time looking at photographs of clothing online, although I rarely buy it online because of course you have to see it in person. Gilt.com is definitely a guilty pleasure. Look Books. I always study Bill Cunningham’s fashion feature in the Sunday NYT very carefully, albeit with the sound off.

Sketch by Ted Benson

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