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Drawing Media, an Interview With Jason Kottke


Hi, Edith here. This is the first in an interview series in which I talk to people about their media diets and habits. Jason seemed like a good person to start with as we figure out the format, although honestly his actual Media Diet series is more thorough. Look for the next installment in a few weeks!

So, have you seen or read anything good recently?
I saw Dune Two on opening weekend. And I went by myself, which I like to do. There are no IMAX screens in Vermont, but there’s a theater about 45 minutes from me with a screen called the T-Rex. It’s not quite IMAX, but it’s not bad either.


How was it?
Great. Better than the first one.

And it was definitely a movie that you want to see on the big screen. Like you could feel the bass, and at one particular moment it felt like the whole theater was vibrating.

I’m sure you’ve read Dune. Have you read it many times?
I have not read Dune, ever.

I’m not sure the movie necessarily makes me want to read Dune, either, which is surprising, because usually when I see a movie based on a book, I’ll be like, “Oh I need to read that.” Like when I saw Oppenheimer, later I read the book it’s based on, which is this 600-page biography of Robert Oppenheimer. And it was good, but I think the movie was better.


You mentioned the other day that you haven’t been enjoying, or even reading, many books recently. Is that true?
Pretty much? For the last couple months, I’ve been working a lot, and that means spending a lot of time on a device – my computer, my phone. And generally I don’t want to read after I’ve been working a lot. TV is much more something I turn to. Also video games. Like I play Fortnite, which is something I started doing with my kids, but now I play more than they do, which is weird.

And so you’re playing against other strangers on the Internet?

Are you good?
I don’t think so. But I’ve gotten a lot better.

And I know you play some of the NY Times games too.
I do the crossword almost exclusively with a friend over FaceTime. She shares her screen, and we solve them together.

I wasn’t a crossword puzzle person beforehand – and I kind of hate Scrabble because at a certain level it’s all about strategy and memorization, which is boring to me. I felt similarly about crossword puzzles, but then she and I started doing them, and I was like, “Oh this is actually pretty fun,” and now we do maybe two or three a week.

And I don’t do Wordle, but I do play the Spelling Bee and Connections. And I’ll do the little mini crosswords on my phone. But a lot of that is just procrastinating about getting out of bed in the morning.

So they’re mostly morning experiences for you?
Yes. I will go back to Spelling Bee, though, if I didn’t do well in the morning.

What’s doing well?
I don’t get Genius every day, but I would like to. But sometimes I just don’t have the patience for the particular puzzle, and I’m like, I’m sorry, I don’t want to grind.

And I’m not judging others, but for me, if I’m spending too long on the Spelling Bee, it means I probably need to get up and move my body, or, you know, engage my brain in a different way.


You mentioned that you read Middlemarch last year. How did you squeeze that in? Because that’s a commitment.
Middlemarch was wonderful. I loved it. When you take seven months off work, you can have time to relax, and my reading went crazy. I couldn’t get enough books, because I wasn’t reading anything online. I stopped cold turkey, basically. People would send me links, like, “Here’s an interesting New Yorker article,” and I’m like, nope. Not even news. Not gonna read it. I’m gonna read about Dorothea and Casaubon.


What were other highlights, book-wise, from that time?
Middlemarch was definitely the highlight. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another sabbatical like that. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Right now I’m listening to a good audiobook, though: Blood in the Machine, by Brian Merchant. It’s about the Luddites.


It was painted as an anti-technology movement in the early 19th century, but the book recontextualizes it as a labor movement. Rich factory owners were introducing new technologies, and people were getting laid off. Workers were angry and would go into the factories to smash machines, but they would only smash the ones that were, like, driving people out of work. The machines that actually helped the laborers do their jobs, those were kept.

And he relates it to what’s going on these days with AI and the current anti-tech movement. I’m enjoying it.

How did you hear about it?
I’d seen it on some “best of” lists at the end of 2023, and then Casey Johnston recommended it on Blue Sky. She was like “this book is great,” and so I was like, Okay, that’s good enough for me.

Do you listen to things most of the time while you’re driving?
Maybe half the time. I also use driving time to think. Like if there’s some work thing I need to think over, I’ll put on music without words, and just, you know, spin the wheels.

But when I don’t feel like doing that, I’ll listen to an audiobook or podcast.

What kinds of music do you listen to?
The music thing is embarrassing because I don’t listen to a lot of, like, new music. André 3000’s flute album is maybe the newest thing I’ve listened to recently.

I can’t write when the music has lyrics, so when I’m working I play a lot of classical and soundtracks. Also videos on YouTube. One of my favorites is just basically an ice breaker idling in the Arctic during a storm.


I also listen to a lot of electronic music, at varying levels of, uh, what would be considered good? And when I’m programming or designing, I listen to a lot of upbeat house, club, and techno.

Anything you’ve seen recently that just wasn’t for you?
Rebel Moon on Netflix was bad. Not even “not for me.” Just objectively terrible.

And something you loved?
The Zone of Interest. I saw it a few weeks ago and have thinking about it ever since, especially the sound design.

Discussion  19 comments

Carleton A

Great post. Just a heads up that the link to the past post on the Arctic Icebreaker has an extra quote mark on the end and it breaks the link

Edith ZimmermanMOD

Oops. Thank you for catching!

Reply in this thread

Jason KottkeMOD

Edith and I talked for almost an hour! One of the things that got cut was that in anticipation of seeing Dune 2, I was thinking about how much better the experience would be if I could put real butter on my popcorn. And then about how I could a) possibly smuggle some butter into the theater, b) keep it melted, and c) put it on my popcorn without looking like a complete nutter.

I bring this up because I want to know: have you ever smuggled melted butter into a movie theater to put on your popcorn? If so, how?

Meghan Lowe

I have not done this, but I am picturing some sort of squeezy bottle (like the honey bear or a small ketchup bottle) that’s holding the melted butter, kept inside a thermos with a bit of hot water at the bottom to keep the butter warm. Ideally the squeezy bottle would wedge above the water line so it wouldn’t get all wet… It’s a conundrum. Curious to see what you come up with!

Reply in this thread

Rebecca Nelson

Love love love the illustrations paired with the interview, Edith. (I like your other illustrations, too, but something about them accentuating parts of the interview was just... *chef's kiss*)

Edith ZimmermanMOD

Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed. 🙂

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Dominik Unger

to hell with „thorough“ I say! this is very lovely, personal and superb! and ++ to what Rebecca says above!

Rebecca Nelson


Edith ZimmermanMOD


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Chris Koerner

This was wonderful. I love you both.

Paul Josey

The fiddle leaf fig we all love is also looking good, sketch-bombing.

Edith ZimmermanMOD


Reply in this thread

Jared Crookston

I've got several coworkers who similarly struggle to work while listening to music with lyrics. For me it's more about needing to listen to music that I've heard enough that I don't think about the lyrics anymore.

Rebecca Nelson

Ah, this is totally me, too. I have several playlists of more chill music without any lyrics. I find it so much easier to find my words when I'm not hearing others.

Here's one I've been working on recently (and also a chance to give embedding code in the comments a try).

Rebecca Nelson

Okay, 😅, well, here's a link to it instead.

Reply in this thread


I can see why the movie of Dune would not recommend the book. The book is a masterpiece, and half unfilmable because it consists mostly of inner monologues. My favorite science fiction book by a long shot. Political, deep, complex.


i want a tattoo of Edith's "ice breaker idling in the Arctic during a storm."

Caroline G.

so good, right?

Reply in this thread

Phil Wells

Scrabble (well, Words With Friends) changed for me when a friend of mine introduced me to Symmetric Scrabble. Two players cooperate to place Scrabble-legal words on the board with the end goal of finishing (no legal moves left) with a symmetric design in the tiles on the board. Add up the scores or don't. You only either win or lose as a team.

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