Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Patrick Radden Keefe

On the Sacklers, archival research, and the pleasures of Belfast

Patrick Radden Keefe (PRK) is one of our favorite investigative reporters. He is a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of the New York Times bestseller Say Nothing, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and the Orwell Prize for Political Writing. We covered the book, one of our picks of the year, in a previous WITI. He’s also the author of two previous books, The Snakehead, and Chatter. His eight-part podcast "Wind of Change," about the strange intersection of Cold War espionage and heavy metal music, is out next month. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

That's a bit of a trick question at the moment. Currently, I'm a stay-at-home dad who spends every waking hour home schooling or otherwise ministering to his two rambunctious children. I'm on leave from The New Yorker, where I'm a staff writer, trying to finish a book about the Sackler family, and a podcast I've been working on for the past year. Every day's an adventure. 

Describe your media diet. 

Before having kids I was pretty systematic about reading my way through magazines -- New York, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, LRB, NYRB—but these days it's more catch as catch can. Twitter has taken on a curatorial function, for better and for worse. I read at least some of the NYT every day, in paper 3 days a week and online the rest. I listen to a bunch of podcasts, though nothing religiously. No cable news: I watch plenty of TV, but purely for escape. 

What’s the last great book you read?

Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead.  

What are you reading now?

Light Years, by James Salter, and a bunch of nonfiction about the history of medicine and philanthropy, for research on my Sackler book. 

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

Start with dessert, end with the vegetables. 

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

For twenty years I have been evangelizing for Helen DeWitt's first novel, The Last Samurai.  

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

As someone who has a fetish for archival research and is old enough to have done battle with Xerox machines, the fact that I can use my phone to make a PDF still feels like utopian SciFi. 

Plane or train?

Train. My father's father worked on the old Boston-New Haven line. It's in my blood. 

What is one place everyone should visit? 

Given all the darkness in Say Nothing, this might come as a surprise, but I'm a big booster for Belfast. It's a complicated place, with a very different energy than you encounter in the republic of Ireland. But it's wonderful.

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

Oh, man. That's my whole professional life, one rabbit hole after another. This week, for the podcast I've been working on, I plunged into the completely bonkers history of the competitive and almost ritualistic use of "pyro"—elaborate, often dangerous pyrotechnic displays—by heavy metal bands in the 1980s. 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Patrick (PRK)


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!).