The Monday Media Diet with Caitlin Thompson of Racquet Magazine

On magazines, tennis, and recovery

Caitlin Thompson (CT) co-founded one of our favorite indie mags, hipped to us by pal (and essential Twitter follow) Chris Black. Racquet is a beautifully designed magazine about tennis. The writing is great and we highly suggest you subscribe if you love the sport as we do. She was kind enough to share some recent reading and inspiration. Have a great week. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I’m the co-founder of Racquet, a media company about the culture of tennis. We make a print quarterly, podcasts and strategy and creative work about making the sport more vibrant and accessible. Before we started the company in 2016, I worked at a bunch of different media companies—The Washington Post, TIME, WNYC, and public television as well as a Swedish podcast platform. I’m a recovering political journalist and I have a lot of very strong opinions about media that I try to channel into our company’s strategy, but I sometimes can’t help myself and spout off on Twitter, to nobody’s benefit.

Describe your media diet.

Sort of rapacious, I’m-not-ok level addicted to my phone and my wife works in an analog field and understands it zero percent. Twitter influences most of this—I’m always DMing people to get them to write for us and trying to find ideas and voices and material for Racquet. I would say I hate it, but I don’t and I probably won’t quit Twitter until Racquet is big enough that I can afford to hire an assistant who comes to find me on the tennis court if something needs my immediate attention.

I fell in love with Esquire at 15 and decided to start a magazine before I even got to college (where I studied magazine journalism on a tennis scholarship), and that really made me study and seek out long-form feature reporting and voice-led essays and takes. Where you get that specific flavor keeps changing—right now it’s podcasts, The Cut, newsletters about things I understand like tennis and food and things I don’t, like fashion—but it’s definitely what I seek out and consume the most. I read the Sunday New York Times and New York and The New Yorker in print because reading about current events is too triggering in real-time on the internet (I think it’s PTSD from covering a few presidential campaigns in my prior life) and I like buying print things to both support print people but also because I like the sensory experience. Going into Casa or Mast or Shreeji when I’m in London is so nice because the people who work there also love magazines and will talk to you a ton about what’s happening and what’s new. It’s very town square if you make a magazine.

What’s the last great book you read?

I just put down the last book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy and I’m feeling intensely bereft and directionless the way you do when something sort of epic is over—this is what I felt like when I finished Lincoln in the Bardo or 2666 or 4321. I don’t love fantasy as much as sci-fi, but her vision and world-building ended up culminating in something really profound and moving, and I love how genre books have to progress forward with plot instead of just vibes. I also finished Ursula K. LeGuin’s classic book Left Hand of Darkness a few weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about how far ahead of her time she was in framing gender and politics and it’s just a subtle, beautifully written book but also there are spaceships. This is my plug for everyone to nerd hard and read sci-fi and fantasy women if they haven’t already.

What are you reading now?

Despite earlier comments, I’m not mad at novels that are more of a vibe, and I’m about to start Ottessa Moshfegh’s Death in Her Hands. At some point soon I’ll read Britt Bennet’s book, The Vanishing Half, for my book club. I have quit and un-quit my book club several times in the past decade, and I’d explain more about this, but several members insisted on a no-public-disparagement clause as part of my latest terms of re-admittance. You can fact check that. I’m also sort of picking here and there at a collection of Werner Herzog interviews called Herzog on Herzog (obviously) and messing around with a book called Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler that some lovely friends sent me as part of a care package, which I wouldn't have found on my own but am into so far.

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

I immediately read the editor’s letter. In case it’s unclear, I really, really love magazines and I feel like it’s ok to fan out about the role editors play in the vision and shape of each issue. The letter from the editor tells you so much about how they're using their power to convene ideas and creators to say about “our time.” David Shaftel, my Racquet partner, takes so much care to spell out how we’ve thought about each issue during the creative process and I think it’s the ultimate platform for a take if you’re lucky enough to have a print magazine at your disposal. Name drop here, but I think Radhika Jones’ ed letters are some of the best and I love knowing her from a newsy context (we worked together at TIME) and seeing how she’s thinking in a language of features and culture at Vanity Fair. It’s like a bonus essay, read them!

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

I can’t tell who is in the MMD audience and I don’t want this to sound like too much of a circle jerk, but I’m very into the following: Laura Mayer’s podcasts, Michelle Collins’s Instagram captions, Kaitlin Philips’ Spike column, Iva Dixit, Alex Abads, Patty Henderson’s Liberal Music, Mick Rouse on fitness, Megan Reynolds, Justin Ellis, E. Alex Jung, Soraya Roberts, Allison P. Davis, Caity Weaver, Delia Cai, Nathan Thornburgh at Roads & Kingdoms, Angelica Jade Bastian’s amazing tv recaps (shoutout to Linda Holmes for inventing the genre on TWoP), Durga Chew-Bose at SSense, Caira Conner, Kyle Chakya, Louisa Thomas and Gossammer’s newsletter. That’s a partial list, of course.

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone?

Multiple tennis score apps. They’re all terrible, but I check them constantly.

Plane or train?

Upper bunk on a sleeper train with a book.

What is one place everyone should visit?

I love giant cities, and I used to live in Beijing when it had one ATM and was basically wild with possibilities. I wouldn’t recommend visiting it now, so instead, I’ll say that I felt that vibe when I was in Bombay—it’s just a total sensory overload that punches you immediately in the face and forces you to stop being a tourist. You also absolutely cannot argue with the food, music, or literature that is alive in that city—read Sacred Games then plan a trip.

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into.

I am still a serious tennis player (in that I’m serious about it) and I obsessively track my heart rate, recovery, sleep and strain with WHOOP. I usually have the app open so that I can get real-time feedback and I WILL go off about this topic to anyone who will listen (almost no one—it’s insufferable). This is also why I listen to How Long Gone, for the workout routine talk, and meditate using the GABA podcast in my infrared sauna blanket. I’m a recovery stan. (CT)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Caitlin (CT)

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