Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Paul Munford

On Vienna, hand filtering, and the Economist's obituaries

Paul Munford (PM) founded Lean Luxe, a newsletter documenting the sea changes in consumer culture and it’s become a must-read for investors, entrepreneurs, and consumers alike. He’s a hyper aggregator and we’re sharing his varied sources of information and inspiration here. (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I’m the founder of Lean Luxe, a newsletter that sits at the intersection of modern brands, modern business culture, and the new HENRY (‘high earner not rich yet’) cohort. Since we launched as a newsletter, most folks know and come into us through the newsletter, and while it’s the heartbeat to Lean Luxe currently, it’s actually more of a Trojan Horse at this point. Our most powerful portion, by far, though purposely small by comparison, is our private, invite-only slack channel where folks are connecting daily on the brand-related news of the day, finding jobs, landing investments, organizing city-specific meetups (pre-COVID), connecting during travels, and having debates — the list goes on. We’re prioritizing member-to-member connection going forward, and have been for a while, and you’ll start to see some of that come into play this summer once we launch our first stand-alone platform. 

Describe your media diet. 

I like filtering. But not by an algorithm. I like having the option to choose, and then make it so that you have all the material that you want to be sent directly to you as it's written. And that doesn’t mean you have to read all of it right then and there. You can let it pile up and then sort through it as a batch once you’re ready later in the day or whenever. That’s ideal. This whole philosophy of the ‘instant stream’ that a lot of platforms push just doesn’t resonate with me at this point. So a few years ago I set up a system that, more or less, allows me to do exactly this. It’s not proprietary or anything, all of what I use is publicly available, but the way that I’ve set it up works wonders. Part of this was done out of necessity — I needed some sort of automated news system for Lean Luxe so that I wasn’t required to go to each site, each blog, each platform, each reporter’s archive in order to get the relevant news I needed. I used to be pretty political, constantly keeping up with every little detail, listening to the requisite podcasts, keeping track of what the major networks decided was important daily. I’ve since stepped away from that routine. I like the Economist approach — just distill and explain to me, in an intelligent way, the actual important things that I need to know, in one weekly package, so that I can get on with the rest of my life through the week, and make sound judgments based on facts, sound research, and a clear perspective.

What’s the last great book you read?

Anna Karenina. Hadn’t read Tolstoy until Ana. Probably my favorite novel at this point. His depiction of human psychology, the depth of it — just mind-blowing, and I haven’t seen any other author reach that level except for maybe Steinbeck in East of Eden.

What are you reading now?

This probably isn’t the best book to be reading during a pandemic, but Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ is what I’m working my way through at the moment. Dark stuff, to be sure, but the way he moves through the timeline of the story by weaving together multiple perspectives of the murder is masterful. Crazy to imagine how taxing this was for him to imbed himself in that town to gather all the information needed in order to write this book. I think the results speak for themselves.

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

If it’s Monocle I’m starting off with the opening editor’s note from Tyler Brûlé. He usually has a straightforward optimistic perspective on whatever is going on that month that I find refreshing when you’re reading the NYT and they’re hyperventilating about Trump or anything that upsets them. If it’s the Economist then I’m hitting up the table of contents to see what’s in the business section and taking note of that, before ultimately heading straight to the obituaries section. It really is the best part of the magazine. Ann Wroe immerses herself in the subject’s life and pumps out what are basically outstanding mini-biographies. Her opening sentence usually grabs you by the shirt and doesn’t let you go. Crisp, unusual, relevant.

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

Seamus Heaney. Beautiful poetry. Otherwise, when it comes to publications if you’re not reading Monocle, Wm Brown, or Yolo Journal, you’re missing out.

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

Pocket. It’s my most used. It’s what I use to save articles, videos, things to buy. It’s all organized. Everything I use to write Lean Luxe first goes into and gets filtered within Pocket. That’s also become something of a headache too, at least from an “inbox zero” perspective, because as of this interview, Pocket’s telling me I’ve got exactly 10,953 articles saved in there. I should probably clean that out soon.

Plane or train?

Depends on where I’m at, where I’m going — and how far of a trip it is. I opt for the train whenever I’m in Europe. Like almost to a fault. If I know the route from Point A to Point B is likely going to be an interesting, picturesque route, then I’m definitely going to take the train. There’s a lot to be said about touring through the heart of the country or region you’re in, taking in the sights, the scenes, observing how they change over the hours as you progress, and passing new towns and locations that you’d otherwise have overlooked — and certainly not seen by air. If I’m staying in an area that maybe doesn’t agree with me, and I just want to get out of there as quickly as possible in order to relocate to a new setting, then I’m obviously going to fly. But otherwise, and especially if I’m in Europe, I’m going rail. Even in the US, though there’s more of a sort of stigma around rail travel versus flying, traveling a few hours across the south is a joy. Small southern towns get me every single time.

What is one place everyone should visit? 

I’ll do you one better and give you two options. The first is more of an obvious one. Charleston, SC. Just a magical place in so many ways. As with any city, it does have its fair share of problems (most notably the racial divide). But the history, the charm, the lifestyle, the architecture, the weather, the people, and the culinary scene all combine to create what is, for me at least, one of the best places to be in the world. I lived there for nearly 5 years and loved every second of it. The second is more of a sleeper hit option. Vienna, Austria. A friend of mine scoffed when I mentioned this as a favorite––“It’s so provincial”––they said. But frankly, that’s what I love about it. When I go to a place, I want to feel like I’m somewhere unique. The ‘Airspace’ coffee shops and restaurants that you can find from Berlin to Amsterdam to Brooklyn are great in their own right, but certainly not one-of-a-kind. Vienna isn’t like that. It’s one of those rare cities that has tremendous cultural history and structures — and they actually still use those structures — palaces, etc — as living, breathing parts of the city. They aren’t cordoned off or housed away just for tours. They’re functional. I could go on about what else makes this city so wonderful, but I’ll leave it at that. Just go.

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

I’ve known about Chairish for a while, but it’s not until the last 2-3 weeks that I’ve been digging in. I recently moved into a new place with more space, and I’m busy putting the pieces together to make sure it looks nice and feels comfortable. It’s easy to go the whole minimalist Scandinavian route, but I often find that’s a crutch. I’m from the south and lived in the country for a few years, so minimalism, while aesthetically pleasing, has never actually been my go-to from a home design standpoint. I like warmth, age, and patina. I recently discovered that my sensibility is called “country-style” which makes sense. Chairish has been great for that, be it art, furniture, decor, whatever. If you’re interested in going down another rabbit hole in this mold, Google “Quintana Partners”. You will not be disappointed. 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Paul (PM)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).