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"I qualify as a bona fide nerd!"
10 Questions with our July Guest Judge
Book of the Month, Arianna Huffington
We caught up with July Guest Judge Arianna Huffington - cofounder, president, and editor in chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, and author of 'The Sleep Revolution' - to talk good books, bad politics, and more.
1. In The Sleep Revolution you offer recommendations and tips from experts on how to achieve better sleep. How important is reading, particularly physical books, in this effort?
It's so important, in no small part because blue light, the sort given off by our ubiquitous electronic devices, is especially good at suppressing melatonin'” which makes it especially bad for our sleep. In fact, a 2015 survey showed that 71 percent of Americans sleep with or next to their smartphones.
It's why reading real, physical books '“ especially poetry, novels and books that have nothing to do with work -- is central to my nightly transition to sleep, which I treat as a sacrosanct ritual. First, I turn off all my electronic devices and gently escort them out of my bedroom. Then, I take a hot bath with epsom salts and a candle flickering nearby'”a bath that I prolong if I'm feeling anxious or worried about something. I don't sleep in my workout clothes as I used to (think of the mixed message that sends to our brains) but have pajamas, nightdresses, even T-shirts dedicated to sleep. Sometimes I have a cup of chamomile or lavender tea if I want something warm and comforting before going to bed. Then, bring on the books!
2. Have you ever stayed up all night to finish a great book? Which one(s)?
Not since I reformed my sleep habits. I'm too keenly aware of the cost of pulling an all-nighter for any reason '“ even if it's a relatively good reason like a great book.
My daughters often laugh as they remember me reading books to them to put them to sleep'” through the years graduating from Dr. Seuss to Harry Potter'” and falling asleep in mid-sentence ('œOne fish, two fish, red fish . . . zzzzzzzz'). As my younger daughter, Isabella, recounts, 'œMy mom would begin to slur her words, and I would have to shake her and repeat over and over again, 'Wake up, Mom, wake up, Mom! Finish the story!' ' (At least the stories worked on one of us.)
3. Ellie Kemper, Book of the Month's Guest Judge for April, told us she believes we are experiencing "the age of the Nerd." Do you agree? Do you consider yourself a nerd?
Yes! I think people today, and especially young people, are more comfortable sharing and embracing passions and interests that aren't traditionally cool -- whether science, technology, coding, reading, etc. At the same time, the rise of social media has made it infinitely easier for people to connect and form communities around these shared passions. As for me, I'm constantly starting conversations about all the new scientific findings around sleep '“ since new ones seem to emerge every week '“ so I'm pretty sure I qualify as a bona fide nerd!
4. As an author, and the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, you hold a large amount of influence over what media consumers read. What are your thoughts on the importance of reading fiction vs non-fiction?
I personally love both fiction and non-fiction, and at The Huffington Post we cover and champion both, not only in our Books section but in various other ways, including book excerpts published on our platform.
5. Recently you've become great friends with the Snapchat king himself, DJ Khaled, and even went to his wife's baby shower! What do you think it is about him that draws so many people to follow him?
So many factors contribute to the marvel that is DJ Khaled: humor, openness, a spirit of experimentation, and a gift for phrasemaking, from #blessup to his major keys to success. But beyond all that there's something relentlessly optimistic, positive and generous about him, and that's why his messages resonate on such a huge scale.
6. Have you ever read Art of the Deal? What's your take on Trump's literary skills? And what advice would you give him to improve his Twitter skills?
I've read passages, but Trump's literary and social media skills are the least of his problems. He's the most unqualified, unstable and dangerous nominee in U.S. history. And tweeting in the middle of the night, as he often does, is just another manifestation of his dreadful sleep habits. He brags that he only sleeps three or four hours a night and displays all the symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation: lack of judgment, inability to process basic information, inchoate outbursts of anger, lack of impulse control, trouble listening to others, irritability, mood swings, a paranoid tendency to spout conspiracy theories, and false memories.
7. Which US president is/was, in your opinion, the best communicator?
It's a toss-up between Lincoln and FDR. But let me pick FDR, who was not only a great communicator but also knew the value of sleep as it relates to leadership. One of my favorite stories is how, in 1940, to think through the monumental question of whether America should enter the war, he announced that he would be taking a ten-day vacation, sailing around the Caribbean on a navy ship '“ something that would be inconceivable in today's political climate. A letter from his wife, Eleanor, read, 'œI think of you sleeping and eating and I hope getting rest from the world.' As Roosevelt's aide Harry Hopkins later said, 'œI began to get the idea that he was refueling, the way he so often does when he seems to be resting and carefree.' The result of Roosevelt's refueling was the $50 billion Lend- Lease program, in which the United States would lend arms and supplies to Great Britain and be paid back after the war in kind. As Roosevelt's speechwriter Robert Sherwood put it, 'œOne can only say that FDR, a creative artist in politics, had put in his time on this cruise evolving the pattern of a masterpiece.'
8. Which would you rather do: sleep only 3 hours each night for the next year, or read a book by Ann Coulter?
Ann Coulter, by far! That might sound masochistic on the surface, but the effects of long-term sleep deprivation are far more harmful than temporary exposure to her peculiar brand of literature.
9. In 2001 you wrote a book called How to Overthrow the Government. Given what we've seen with Bernie and Donald, is this what you had in mind?
What I explored in that book were many of the legitimate grievances people had at the time and continue to have today, as a result of a government that has not adequately addressed our country's crisis of growing inequalities. Bernie Sanders has given voice to that discontent. Trump, of course, has peddled racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and lies.
10. Why are books by politicians typically so boring? Can you think of any that weren't truly terrible, either by Democrats or Republicans?
Books by politicians are so often boring because they're simply extensions of political campaigns -- strategic, inauthentic posturing designed to win votes or fashion a legacy, not connect meaningfully with readers.
But one of my favorite books was written by a politician, though not of our time. In the 1840s, Benjamin Disraeli, still a long way from being prime minister, wanted to wake people up to the plight of the British working class '“ and move them to act. The alarm he sounded wasn't delivered in a speech, a pamphlet, or an article -- but in a novel, Sybil, published in 1845. It had the desired effect -- raising awareness, provoking outrage, and leading to the passage of several fundamental social reforms. Disraeli knew that one of the most effective ways to touch people is through narrative -- putting flesh and blood on raw facts and data.