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Eight days without The New York Times

August 12, 2009

newspaper_stackI had all sorts of good reasons for stopping my New York Times subscription for the month of August.  First, it was to finally get the chance to get through all those unread sections that had been piling up for months.  I’d be going away on vacation for a week in August and would need to stop delivery anyway.

For the few years since the NY Times has been available online I resisted dropping my paid subscription, even though I knew I could now read it for free.  I determined to be one of the last holdouts to support the dying newspaper industry – my measly contribution toward preventing THE END OF JOURNALISM AS WE KNOW IT.  Even though my tech-savvy fiancé Bob assured me that “paper is an antiquated way of delivering the news,” and my sons seem to be more than adequately informed by a combination of The Daily Show and online sources like Slate and, I clung tightly to tradition.

I love my newspapers. I feel compelled to read every section, with the possible exception of the Sunday Automobile section and Sports (although I’ve even been known to  read the occasional article about a team or player about which I know nothing because the headline was clever and eye-catching). Tuesday’s Science Times, which I rarely get a chance to read on a Tuesday, will often wait until Thursday, Friday or even the following week.

Sometimes I’ll come to the end of a long article about some archeological dig in the Galapagos or retiring appellate judge in Sacramento and wonder, “why did I just read that?” and I realize, it was just because the writing was so damn good.

But here’s the problem, and the reason I stopped my subscription for the month of August: I no longer read books.  Sections of the Times – they can be days old, no matter – follow me to breakfast, dinner, and up to bed at night.  Because the paper is never actually finished – and a new one comes every day – there never seems to be any time to read an actual book.

I teach writing, and frequently urge my students to read both fiction and nonfiction, quoting Stephen King’s admonition in On Writing, “If you’re not going to read, don’t bother to write.” The pile of books on my night table, consisting of everything from the James Joyce’s Dubliners to The Ten Year Nap picked up on impulse at Barnes & Noble, to a manuscript of a wonderful unpublished novel written by a friend, go unread while I finish yesterday’s Business Section.

But August was going to be my month to read books, I decided.  I’m not teaching, have mostly administrative catch-up and planning work to do, and there should be plenty of opportunity to take a book to the beach or even read on my back patio.

In theory.

What happened is that I went through eight days of severe newspaper withdrawal.  For the first few days I managed by finally going through the old Travel Sections describing places I’ll never travel to, Book Review section containing reviews of books I’ll never read, and even an old Connecticut section that hasn’t been published since July. But when those ran out, I was in trouble.  Big time.

I couldn’t eat a meal without a section of the Times spread open – not breakfast, not lunch, not one of the many dinners I eat on my own, now that my sons are out of town a good part of the summer and Bob is around only on weekends. During dinner I would try to get my news fix with the evening news, but usually ended up missing the news and instead hearing yet one more in-depth piece on Michael Jackson or Farrah Fawcett, with a little Dannielyn Birkhead story occasionally thrown in, on those cheesy evening entertainment shows.

Sure, I could read the Times online, and I tried to.  But as someone who spends half her life on the computer, the last thing I wanted to do during down time was sit in front of my monitor for even more time than I already had to.

I was getting desperate. Like a junkie, I resorted to Times articles on my BlackBerry, and became one of those pathetic people who eat meals with a fork in one hand and a pda in the other. But there was something definitely missing; I was unable to tell where in the paper the article appeared – was it front  page, or buried somewhere?  Without the NY Times editors to signal the article’s noteworthiness by its positioning in the paper, not to mention the photos whose captions summed up the article perfectly (it took annoyingly long to download images), I was completely disoriented.

I made it to Day 8 before I made the call to the Times. I wanted to apologize to the automated voice that accepted my amended restart date.  Take me back.  I’m sorry.  I’ll never leave you again.

But I’m really, really going to try to get to those books.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2009 5:23 am

    I liked it. So much useful material. I read with great interest.

  2. Jaybee permalink
    October 10, 2009 9:55 pm

    Hi Jessica! Interesting piece you have here. Looks like low-tech vs hi-tech trying to win you over. Whatever you decide to do in the future, I wish you all the best. I do hope you get to get back to your book readings. Been trying to discipline my self as well. Twitter has been affecting the time I’m able to read books and add entries on my blog. Anyway, I think I’ll be your regular visitor here. Regards…

  3. October 10, 2009 10:08 pm

    Welcome, Jaybee (those are my initials, too!) and any and all new readers!

  4. patricefitz permalink
    October 15, 2009 7:34 pm

    Jessica, I think I signed up for the NYTimes just as you attempted to let go!

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