Welcome to “Read State,” a recurring TM Daily Post feature in which we ask noteworthy Texans—from writers and singers to athletes and politicians—what they’re reading. Today we bring you the reading habits of Will Sheff, longtime Austinite (and current Brooklynite) and lead singer and songwriter of the indie rock band Okkervil River, whose latest album, The Silver Gymnasium, was released in September.
Because of the way my schedule tends to work, I don't really have "average days." When I'm at home in Brooklyn I read on the subway on the way to my writing/recording space, to kind of get my mind ready to work. Usually I'm reading something intended to help with the project I'm working on at the moment, and it's most likely to be fiction or poetry. When I'm traveling with the band I read in stolen moments, most often at soundcheck while I'm waiting around. Usually I read more page-turner style books because it's easy to stay focused on them (detective fiction is a favorite tour read for me, and I also love biographies). When I'm traveling by myself I'm unlikely to read at all because I'm usually either driving or working or sleeping. If I have spare time while traveling by myself it's usually while I'm eating, and then I might read something on Instapaper, like some more long-form journalistic stuff.
I resisted reading from a screen for a long time before giving in. I still feel a little weird about reading from a screen, but the reality is that when I'm trying to travel light—like on tour—it's a lot easier to read on my tablet or my phone because I don't have to pack seven books in my luggage, which is what I used to do. Books are heavy, and lugging around a bag full of books is a drag. I miss passing books around with other band members on tour, but I don't miss always having a bent-up crumpled book underfoot in the van along with all the water bottles and travel pillows and apples and bananas and tambourines that are always rattling around. When I'm at home I'm more likely to read a physical book. Physical books feel so glamorous to me now.
I like reading before bed because it's easier to fall asleep that way, but only it if it's a real book; staring at a glowing screen at 3AM is way more likely to keep you awake than help you nod off. Sometimes I glance at my phone right when I wake up but that's a bad habit I'm trying to break. The best thing to do first thing in the morning is to work for 45 minutes to an hour. I find I'm very clear-headed at that time and I've just been in the dream-world and so I'm thinking a little more creatively maybe. So I try to spend that time working.
I wish I had more time to read, period. The reality is that most of my waking hours are spent trying to stay on deadline for whatever projects I have coming up. I feel guilty when I read because I know I'm endangering a project. I think fiction is the most valuable thing to read. Nonfiction is fun but it's only an illusion that you learn more about life from nonfiction. I think fiction teaches you so much more about human psychology and enriches and strengthens your imagination and your inner world.
Some of the fiction writers I think I always kind of keep in my mind when I'm working are Borges, Raymond Chandler, Isaac Babel, Chaucer, Faulkner, Barthelme, Mikhail Bulgakov, Henry Miller, Nabokov. These are some of the guys I guess I always kind of confer with in my head. With journalists, there are film, music and TV critics where I kind of enjoy their point of view or their style, but not many that I read obsessively. It seems to me that music and film criticism aren't what they once were. I think Lester Bangs hit a high-water mark for music criticism but he's one of the those writers that maybe did more harm than good in that he gave several generations of male bozos the clearance to make everything they write all about themselves. I like when a critic either has an entertaining prose style or something meaningful to say, and both of those things seem kind of rare. There are definitely lots of columnists I read semi-regularly though, because I love TV and movies and I love reading peoples' opinions and getting worked up about them. I avoid a lot of music criticism because I feel like everybody's afraid of looking like a snob so they devote all this ridiculous serious analysis to these cheesy popmeisters now and I can only read so many thinkpieces about Miley Cyrus before I get indigestion.
Embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford—the only major North American leader whose name, when Googled, auto-suggests the word "crack" as part of the search—is in Texas right now. Specifically, he's here for the first day of the Austin City Limits Festival, where he's on a "trade mission" to learn tips about the Austin music industry that he can take back to Toronto. He's also accompanied by a host of Canadian press, most of whom are more interested in talking with the mayor about drug allegations (a friend of the mayor's was arrested on drug charges this week) than about what the Toronto music scene hopes to gain from his visit to Austin.
Austin residents don't seem to have much to say about Rob Ford's visit, which led the Toronto Star to report hilarious quotes from various Texans interviewed about the mayor and his city that didn't make them sound particularly well-informed. ("He was voted best-dressed," one said of the, er, not well-dressed Ford, though it'd be a fair way to describe designer Tom Ford.) Although that's also a bit unfair—how much do Toronto residents know about Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell?
In any case, the reactions to Rob Ford's visit to Texas are revealing about both what our Canadian counterparts think of Texas, and what the Texans who are familiar with Ford think of his alleged drug-abusing persona.
The third-annual Texas Tribune Festival wrapped up on Sunday, with headlining appearances by most of the major players in Texas politics in 2014 and beyond. Specifically, declared gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott and yet-to-declare gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Senator Ted Cruz, and Texas First Lady Anita Perry all made headlines during their interview and audience Q&A sessions in Austin over the weekend.
In a post on the Guardian's Shortcuts Blog called "Masturbation laws around the world: the penal code" (yes, we see what you did there), the British publication claimed:
"[A] new measure which will come into force on 1 January 2014 will make many forms of male masturbation illegal. 'Exceptions include sperm donations, which now must only be performed at a designated hospital facility.'"
The source the Guardian cites for that tidbit—which, it should go without saying, is 100% untrue—is the website the Tribune Herald. Somewhat legit-sounding URL aside, that is a parody news website that runs on a basic Wordpress template, has 75 followers on Twitter, and includes stories with other headlines like, "Obama to meet and personally arm Syrian rebels with special 'first gun.'"
JAKE SILVERSTEIN: Your new book opens with a threat that was made against your life because of your reporting on drug trafficking in Mexico. Why start there?
Yesterday brought news that Texas Monthly has been nominated for four National Magazine Awards. The NMAs, as they are known, are handed out by the American Society of Magazine Editors, and they’re like the Pulitzers or the Oscars of the magazine industry. Needless to say, we’re thrilled.
Yesterday, as North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, it's hard to forget that the country literally trains its citizens to hate Americans. There is, perhaps, one inexplicable exception to their enmity: the 25-year-old Texan, Jimmy Dushku.
Forty years ago, as the very first issue of Texas Monthly was being put together by Bill Broyles & Co., Life magazine folded. Though it would later resume publication (before finally folding again in 2007), and though it continues on today as a pretty amazing photo site, the coincidence of the legendary magazine’s demise and the new upstart’s birth served to make a point about the way the business was changing at the time. As Mike Levy, Texas Monthly’s founding publisher, wrote in his introductory note to readers:
The trend in magazine journalism away from big, mass circulation, general interest publications such as Life, Post, and Look towards the so-called ‘special market’ magazines, such as Psychology Today, New York, Sports Illustrated, and Road & Track. Americans are becoming more local in their perspectives, their interests are being narrowed and defined, and their magazine reading is being focused on what is going on in their own fields of interest and in their own backyards. Texas Monthly is a special market publication.
I’ve been thinking about this observation as we’ve been building this new website, which debuts today, on our fortieth birthday, at high noon low noon noon El Paso time ... (what's a few hours here or there?). Everyone knows that we’re living through another disruptive time in the journalism business. The web, and social media, and mobile devices, and everything else that you can squeeze under the umbrella of the Digital Age has upended the way readers read and the way journalists reach those readers and the way publishers make a business around the whole proposition. Texas Monthly’s print magazine has been an outlier to these trends. Our print product is a roaring, profitable enterprise that supports a large staff of exceptionally talented and experienced journalists doing exceptionally high-quality work. I’ll admit that this gives the magazine a sort of pleasantly old-fashioned feel at times: This is a place where, for a variety of reasons, the old way still works. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel the pressure and see the opportunity presented by the way digital media are transforming our business. This new site is the biggest step we’ve yet taken to grab that opportunity.