🎙️ Sam Circle

🎙️ Sam Circle

Sam Circle, writer + filmmaker

Reads magazines, books, and newsletters; watches sports, youtube, and reality tv

Can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Hey I’m Sam, I write Last Week’s New Yorker Review. I live in Jersey City in a small apartment with my wife and rescue poodle. Life is bliss, especially since they just opened a grocery store across the street. I’m in my last semester of an MFA where I make experimental film; I’m thinking through my next steps after that but the (entirely unexpected!) success of my newsletter has encouraged me to pursue a path that includes writing and editing.

Given your wonderful newsletter, let’s start with magazines…

Since you’re a pretty devoted reader of multiple magazines, what does your relationship with the medium look like?

I’ve been reading the New Yorker front-to-back since I discovered the Tilly Minute newsletter in college, whose basic concept and section headers I’ve shamelessly ripped off for my own scrappy enterprise. (It ran on-and-off until 2018.) I love the variety of subject matter and the flavorful prose – but really it’s hard to sell someone on The New Yorker, it is what it is. (Side-note – I’m not used to typing the name out, my newsletter has a little joke where I only refer to it as ‘the magazine,’ in keeping with the magazine’s tendency to refer to itself as such.) Bookforum just rocks and makes me feel smart more than any publication. (Especially since I’m the type to read three reviews of a book as a substitute for reading the book.) New York is relentlessly fun, even when it’s basically the media industry looking at its reflection; lately, it sets the terms of the conversation. Outside of those which I get in physical form and read most-to-all of, usually roughly front-to-back, I digitally read basically anything linked through in my favored witty-aggregator newsletters – Today in Tabs, the Washington Review of Books, various others – basically anything that feels like it’s being discussed. It’s an art not a science.

Are there any writers that you feel are basically required reading for every piece they write? Any underrated writers you think deserve more limelight?

I pay the closest attention to the voices of critics; I was a big Helen Shaw fan before she moved from New York to “the magazine,” for instance. Merve Emre and Parul Sehgal in books are both really really good, but their names just come to mind mostly because they’re also super prolific, I think – easily eighty percent of the magazine’s writers have positive associations in my head. When I was obsessed with the Tilly Minute, I actually made a document where I tallied the overall review-rankings of every writer in the magazine. I have not done this for myself; I think it would make me too self-conscious. Nikhil Krishnan’s done some really good stuff on philosophy lately, Manvir Singh has been excellent on a variety of subjects… these are just totally random pulls, I’m not sure there’s anyone I could call underrated who’s a regular – I’ll shout out B.D. McClay, an occasional contributor, whose personal newsletter mostly on Taylor Swift with a spattering of other random topics is always surprisingly pertinent and compelling. Carolyn Kormann getting laid off in the latest cycle was a real shame, she was excellent on both climate and Covid. Two of my favorite working writers, period, are sometime contributors – Ben Lerner and comics artist Chris Ware. I want to go on and on, but like, that’s what my newsletter is for.

## Given your magazine reading, 100’s of newsletters, and having two fiction books going at a time how do you balance all of that and ensure you have time to get through everything?

I definitely do let my book reading languish to some extent, but also I just… don’t read book-length nonfiction at all, and I barely watch scripted television. I used to read a lot of comics, now I read next-to-none. In college I listened to a ton of new music; that’s a habit I’ve never managed to reinstate. If I really wanted to, I’d make time for these things; instead, I make time for other things. Setting arbitrary limits helps me from feeling overwhelmed (mostly.) I have a decent amount of free time because I don’t have kids or a full-time job, but I still fully expect and anticipate cutting things out and adding things on as the whim strikes me. And nobody should feel guilty for closing tabs!

As a systems person myself, I’m fascinated by your systems and docs for books and movies. Can you tell us a little bit about those?

I love having a system for consuming things, it just makes it so much more fun for me. It eliminates the anxiety of choice and adds the joy of… curated discovery, I guess I’d say? For books, I assign points to fiction based on literary awards and end-of-year lists, and try to read what gets more than a certain number of points. For movies, I have a list based on the Sight & Sound poll that I’m watching through with my wife, one movie a week. (This is a continuation of the initial project I embarked upon in 2012; it took me about eight years to get through the movies that cycle, and there are more movies on the list this cycle, so I fully anticipate it’ll take over a decade.) When I was a kid there was a poster of all the Caldecott Medal winners and I decided to read all of them; I’ve basically chased a similar high with most of my media consumption since, to be honest. 

Given your love of film and your MFA, are there any writers or directors that you make sure never to miss a release from?

I try to keep up with current releases and greatly enjoy many of them – recently, Drive My Car and Killers of the Flower Moon both absolutely blew me away. But my heart is more on the experimental side of things – there are plenty of contemporary creators I could shout out; Fox Maxy, Jodie Mack, Cecelia Condit… but to me the best way to experience experimental film is by way of a festival – in NYC there’s the fantastic Prismatic Ground, plus plenty of weird stuff screening across the city at venues like the Film Co-op, Anthology, Light Industry… the newsletter Screen Slate is a decent way to keep up. And outside the city I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer with the legendary Ann Arbor Film Festival as a screener. I should also shout out my all-time favorite director, the legend Jacques Rivette.

You mentioned not making time for music much these days, but wanting to change that—how are you thinking about and approaching that problem?

I used to use Pitchfork for music discovery, their dismantling is quite painful to witness. I’m not sure how to approach discovery in a way that won’t feel stupid and arbitrary to me. Right now I’m seeing if I can get the website RYM (Rate your Music) to reliably give me interesting suggestions, with mixed results. Another newsletter: Dada Drummer Almanach is usually a cry into the void about the terrible place music streaming and music discovery is in.

What’re the last three great pieces of entertainment you’ve watched/read/listened to?

Somehow I’d seen almost the entire Marx Brothers canon except Duck Soup; that was as good as advertised. Maps the Billy Woods album from last year… terrific. Any given week the best thing I see is usually a gallery or museum show; unfortunately my habit is to visit things just as they close, which makes recommendation useless – however the phenomenal two-room installation at Dia Chelsea is up for a while, and is better if you go in knowing nothing. 

What's something older than 10 years you think is worth people revisiting?

Ten years! That’s not very old at all, is it? Since I didn’t recommend a novel above, I’ll shoutout the 2010 Lord of Misrule, a propulsive gothic racetrack tale with an inimitable voice. I read it since it won the National Book Award and liked it a great deal – and then found out it was written by a close friend’s aunt! Quite the coincidence.

I've personally never been a reality TV watcher—what is it about that medium that attracts you to it?

Reality competition TV is so great and so underrated. It has all the best elements of sports with no violence, all the best interpersonal drama of real people but in an elevated/edited way that writing simply can’t match… I think ultimately I’m an editing-head more than a writing- or acting- head, and this means I’ll usually gravitate toward editing-driven media – which is what unites the seemingly disparate realms of reality TV and experimental film. And, sorta, periodicals – if you squint!

Huge thanks to Sam for joining us this month. It was an absolute pleasure to get to go back and fourth with them and their immense knowledge of magazines and film!