Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Delia Cai

On rinky dink apps, reading a ton of newsletters, and True/False Film Fest

Delia Cai (DC) writes the essential Deez Links newsletter. Like our pal Foster Kamer, nothing seems to elude here when it comes to media. She has wide-ranging tastes as you’ll soon see and we’re happy to have her on the page with us today. Plus, she gets bonus points for not having a super serious bio photo. -Colin (CJN) 

Tell us about yourself.

I’m your typical Piscean gaping wound of feelings and self-doubt playing at the internet slot machine of validation. As a midwesterner, I find it kind of embarrassing, but as a Chinese-American woman, it can be wildly fun. Because I’m not really supposed to be here, am I? 

I grew up in a small town and a strict immigrant home where I felt starved for contact with the outside world. The “real world.” As a tween, I borrowed back issues of Vogue from the library and made myself read every line, down to the image captions and the clothing price tags, on every page. That’s how precious those issues felt. Thank god for the internet. I wasn’t any good at taking care of my Neopets or coding Myspace backgrounds, but when I stumbled upon Quizilla and fanfiction.com, and WordPress, it changed everything. I found my people. That’s when I started writing. 

Now I do a newsletter called Deez Links and work for BuzzFeed and am working on a novel. Every day is like chugging from a firehose, but at least it’s never boring. 

Describe your media diet. 

I want so badly to be a podcast/radio person, but I’m really terrible at keeping up with them. I’ll listen to NPR or sometimes The Daily, though the latter has felt increasingly dissonant to support given the Andy Mills fuckery. (How does one completely from shitty-media-man-associated media? Can it be done?) I also don’t really do with video-based news or cable news (but that’s probably generational, right?). 

I subscribe to like 60-70 different newsletters, both from outlets and individuals. During the day I’m just trying to give each one a quick scan, at least, while I keep one eyeball attached to Twitter. Everything longish goes on Pocket to read later (I miss commute reading!). What I don’t get to during the day gets deleted (big inbox zero freak here, sorry). After dinner, I try to stay offline and read New York mag, the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. I still have that childhood compulsion to read every word of every issue, so I only subscribe to those three in print and read everything else online, where the ephemerality feels more forgiving. 

My greatest hack for keeping up with what’s happening in the news cycle literally comes down to two newsletters: the Muck Rack Daily (which is like Twitter, focused on the newsy bits) and Today in Tabs (like Twitter, but smarter and spicier and weirder). If Fostertalk happens to come in around lunchtime when I’m reading those first two, it’s like having dessert. 

What’s the last great book you read?

I’m very late to Weike Wang’s Chemistry, but I started reading it while standing in line for a donut shop opening (the things we do to feel alive during a pandemic), and it just made me completely dissociate from time and space. It’s a classic tale about a second-generation immigrant’s existential crisis, but also, it’s so fucking funny. Wang has great comedic timing. Every scene is set up with a little punchline. There’s an almost throwaway scene where a  toddler is running amok trying to put a band-aid on a dog’s visible butthole. I’m sorry, but I’m never erasing that mental image. Thank you, Weike.

What are you reading now?

I’m about to finish Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It has all the ingredients I love in a novel — intertwining intergenerational goodness; simple, beautiful language that sneaks up on you when you least expect; cults and doomsday stakes. But I gotta say it may also not have been the best thing to read in month 10 of the pandemic. One night after reading, I stayed up and made a mental list of survival skills I can claim (very few, and if you factor in a mortal dependence on 1800Contacts, I’m toast when the end comes). 

The pandemic in the book is, of course, exponentially worse than our current reality. But the loneliness, the despair — St. John Mandel got all of that exactly right. There’s a scene where some people at an airport watching passengers board a plane. Some of the passengers, through the window, wave to the people at the airport, while everyone basically knows that this is the last plane that’ll ever take off in their lifetimes. But the detail about the little wave killed me. It says so much about foolish human optimism with so little. 

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

I flip through the whole thing first to get an idea of which parts I know I have to read and which things I’ll “let” myself skip. With The New Yorker, I go through and read all the cartoons and poems first, so that later, when I’m reading Plague Year or the annual Ben Taub issue, I can just barrel through. 

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

I don’t think Allegra Hobbs, who covers media for Study Hall, gets enough credit, particularly for her definitive The journalist as influencer essay from 2019. I think about that essay on a weekly basis because it explains everything from media Twitter to the weird, ghettoized fashion we still largely use to talk about (pigeonhole) women’s careers in this industry. 

Hua Hsu at The New Yorker makes everything from poster culture to fungi utterly fascinating, and I think the Hua Hive needs more hype. Allison P. Davis at New York magazine can change the internet and untangle high suburb Karen drama with her eyes closed. Safy-Hallan Farah’s Hip to Waste, Victor Luckerson’s Run It Back, Conor Gearin’s Possum Notes, Julia Carpenter’s A Woman To Know, and Kara Cutruzzula’s Brass Ring Daily all embody the wide-ranging possibilities of newsletters as a form. 

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

I have been using this kind of rinky-dink app called Goodbudget for ages. It’s super basic — you make “envelopes” and assign dollar amounts to each one, and theoretically, it helps you track (and limit) your spending. Sexy stuff. 

Plane or train?

Planes are what I have to take to go home, but I maintain that flying is so fucking stressful. Give me a train any day. There is nothing better than having a little window seat and watching the landscape go by and nodding off. Getting on the A train (technically a subway I guess) after a day at the beach, when you’re all dehydrated and sunned out and in dire need of industrial-grade air conditioning? Heaven.

What is one place everyone should visit? 

Columbia, Missouri, during the True/False Film Fest every year. 

I’m biased because that’s my college town, and my friends from school use the festival as an excuse to reunite every year. It’s our nerd homecoming. But outside of that, the weekend itself is one big tacit agreement where the town’s big football school identity goes to hibernate, and the weird, crunchy side of Columbia gets to let loose. The films are reliably life-changing, but there’s also just this shimmery magic to wandering around the downtown and bumping into live music, art installations, and excellent parties at every turn. It’s central Missouri, so everything is very cheap, and everyone is obnoxiously friendly. Last year’s festival was the last thing I did before the pandemic hit — New York shut down the day after I got back. As far as “last pre-rona weekends” go, that was the one to have. 

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

I started watching Peaky Blinders on a whim a few weeks ago, and now I’m fully obsessed. My entire Instagram suggestion page is just Peaky Blinders fan accounts. I’m working through Cillian Murphy’s IMDb page. (Red Eye was short and fun!) I have Googled everything from “how much was a British pound worth in the 1920s” to “what are those old-timey shirt bands for” (sleeve garters!) and listened to every cover of “Red Right Hand” on Spotify. I don’t know man. I wish I had something deep to say about how the show has interesting things to say about class and our fetish with white working-class men, but it’s not that deep. Adrien Brody plays a New York mafioso in Season 4. Tom Hardy is a Jewish gangster from Camden Town who just swallows up every scene. And then there’s Cillian Murphy’s face. You know, not everything has to be that deep. 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Delia (DC)


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