2013 CLASS DAY SPEAKER, PULITZER PRIZE WINNER, AND NEW YORKER EDITOR DAVID REMNICK ’81 LOVES UMLAUTS, PJ’S WAFFLES, AND THINKS TINA BROWN COULD BEAT ZOMBIE LENIN IN A FIGHT. ALSO A HOMEBOY.
Major: Comparative Literature
Hometown: Hillsdale, NJ
Residential college/eating club affiliation: Wilson College
For those seniors who may have never heard of you, how would you describe yourself?
As a guy who got a D in Russian at Princeton–and then made his stripes…where else?… in Russia. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Who’s your favorite Princetonian, living or dead, real or fictional?
Albert Einstein (he counts, right?) and Robert Cohn, the impotent boxer in “The Sun Also Rises.” And some classmates: Elena Kagan, for sure.
Steve Carell, last year’s Class Day speaker, is a hard act to follow. What’s your game plan?
Hire Steve Carell to write my speech.
What’s your greatest guilty pleasure?
If I counted up the hours lost to watching uniformed people tossing, whacking or carrying various-shaped balls on television, I would probably drink hemlock.
In one sentence, what do you actually do all day?
Read, edit, cajole, beg, hope. And that’s not even a sentence, strictly speaking.
What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in Princeton?
Waffles at PJ’s. In an altered state.
What are your thoughts on the future of journalism?
That there is one. Because without real journalism– innovative, aggressive, tough-minded, fair journalism– you’ve got North Korea.
What’s your drink?
I am not very particular.
What’s your personal anthem?
The Miles Davis classic: “So What?”
What makes you laugh?
What makes you cry?
Death and onions.
Who’s your mortal enemy?
Anyone who thrives on cruelty.
Who would win in a fight, former New Yorker editor Tina Brown or a reanimated Vladimir Lenin zombie?
What magazine/newspapers do you read besides The New Yorker?
Too many to name, but, for starters, The Times, The Washington Post, Haaretz, Al Jazeera online, some Russian papers, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, loads of websites…anyway, a cascade of things.
Favorite New Yorker cover of all time?
Damn near anything by the great Saul Steinberg.
Umlauts. How do you feel about them?
I feel goöd about them.
Midnight to five, five-thirty.
Favorite spot on Princeton’s campus?
The basement of East Pyne, where I (tried to) learn Russian and in various other classrooms scattered around the building, where I got to study with Bob Hollander, John McPhee, Sandy Bermann, Bob Fagles, and Suzanne Nash. I’m pretty fond, too, of wherever P. Adams Sitney was showing movies. And since the drinking age then was eighteen, what you know as a place to get coffee was once called “The Pub.” Trust me, “the Pub” was better. Or so I recall.
Favorite class you took at Princeton?
A dead heat: Robert Hollander’s Dante course and John McPhee’s writing seminar.
What grammar mistake do you find most annoying?
Are you sure that question is grammatical?
What makes someone a Princetonian?
God willing, not an obnoxious question like the previous. What it has meant lately is that you had the chance to be there under a truly great university president. Shirley ruled; she rules; and will always rule. She really set an example on every level.