What He’s Watching
Our family’s television addictions are small: Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage and, of course, football and hockey. The whole mishpocheh watched Tree Of Life the other night, with opinion equally divided between “sublime!” and “silly.” I will confess to an absolute weakness for Seinfeld reruns; although the performers say it themselves, I have never understood the notion that the show is about nothing. It is about what Dr. Johnson called the one real thing: manners, and how they indicate who we are.
What He’s Reading
My reading is roughly divided into three categories: things I’m reading because I have to, things I’m reading because I want to and things I’m reading because I always do. In the first category are the books that my New Yorker editor Henry Finder throws at me to reduce to mulch in the hope that a little weed of an essay will sprout afterwards. This year these have included new books on the Internet, “declinism,” dogs and so on. Right now I’m mulching about 20 books on American incarceration, including Conrad Black’s, with no weed yet in sight.
The things I’m reading because I want to don’t always get read right through, save on our August holidays when I’m a happy reading monomaniac. Right now these include Vladimir Nabokov’s Bend Sinister and Henry James’s The Bostonians, both bought on a reading holiday and left unfinished.
The things I read because I always do are the books that stay by my bedside: Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Trollope’s Palliser novels, Liebling on anything, Monypenny and Buckle’s The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notebooks and, weirdly, anything on J.F.K.
What He’s Listening To
I listen to music all day as I work. The early morning hours are given over to the hard rock of my youth, chiefly live Stones, Hendrix and Eric Clapton; the cooking hour between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to jazz, mostly to chamber swing of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Billie Holiday’s recordings with Lester Young, and Duke Ellington’s small group sessions strike me as the closest to perfect that mankind has ever come. And the Beatles act as the continual golden thread tying all the rest together. I also enjoy playing what I think of as “Pandora” fishing-using that wonderful Internet “genome” set to one minor jazz musician in order to reel in many more.
What He’s Plugging
I performed the Massey Lectures through Canada this fall-I was immensely flattered to be asked to deliver the 50th-anniversary series. They are, if anything, Gopnik Unplugged: a mostly cheery, not to say breezy, stroll through the cultural history of winter, as the world has imagined the season throughout modern times. The whole is called Winter: Five Windows on the Season. There are a few icicle-shaped tears loaded in the end. Since then I’ve been out on the road with a much-expanded collection of all of my writings on food over the past decades. That book, called The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, is my attempt to insist that what goes on around the table matters as much as what’s on it, and to write a kind of Physiology Of Taste for our time.
If He Ruled the World, He Would…
Instantly eliminate fighting and head shots of all kinds from hockey. If I truly ruled the world I would also see to it that the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup every other year, as they did in my youth. But if I did that, the real rulers of the world would probably take away my crown.