News & Politics

The Quarantine Questionnaire: Jane Mayer of the New Yorker

The investigative reporter shares her biggest fail, her reading list, and 16 other ways she's passing the time.

What’s the best thing you’ve streamed? Most useful thing in your freezer? Dream day when this is all over? In search of inspiration—and, let’s be honest, a bit of voyeurism—we’re asking Washingtonians (current and recently former) how they’re passing the time and getting through quarantine. Here’s the New Yorker investigative reporter Jane Mayer, she of recent Mitch McConnell and Al Franken profiles as well as the author of Dark Money, about the brothers behind the Koch business empire.

Photograph courtesy of Jane Mayer


Best book you’ve read: I’ve been working hard on a New Yorker magazine profile of Mitch McConnell so my reading has been targeted in that direction. Alec MacGillis’s short biography of McConnell, The Cynic, is phenomenal. A forthcoming book by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Let Them Eat Tweets, is also a terrific take on how American politics has devolved into what they call “plutocratic populism.” For fun, I’ve also been reading my friend Larry Wright’s prescient, soon-to-be published novel, The End of October, about a pandemic—proving what many have long suspected: Wright is a genius.

Quarantine goal: Exercise every day. I have failed in meeting it pretty much every day. My other goal has been to listen to, and read the liner notes on all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas in the 11-disc set performed by Peter Takacs. It’s wonderful. I was inspired to do this by my brother, the pianist Steven Mayer, and his 2016 concert performance of Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata Op 17.

Favorite takeout: Margaritas-to-go from the newly-opened Surfside takeout taco window. This may explain the failure to meet exercise goals.

Weight gain or loss: I haven’t gotten on a scale. I’m pro-facts, but some I’d rather not know.

Song on repeat: My daughter has been endlessly playing “Gaslighter,” the new Dixie Chicks tune.

Most surprising self-discovery: It turns out there is no such thing as too much sleep.

Best coping mechanism: Laughing at the funny social media links that friends and family send. Never have I had more appreciation for how funny my friends and relatives are. (More on that below.)

Worst part of the day: President Trump’s White House briefings

Most memorable quarantine fail: I was so grateful when a friend dropped off groceries, I started to give him a hug, at which he sprang back as if I had Leprosy.

Person I’d most like to quarantine with: My husband, daughter and dog, who luckily are at home with me. Additional person I’d most like to quarantine with: Bruce Springsteen—it would ease the wait for the vaccine considerably.

Person I’d least like to quarantine with: Anyone I’ve written about who is unhappy with the story. No names.

Favorite place to quarantine at home: Our front porch—everyone stops by to shoot the breeze.

Favorite comfort food: My daughter’s home-baked shortbread chocolate chip cookies.

Best household item re-discovered: Bread-making machine, unused for years, like the Volkswagen bug in the old Woody Allen movie, a century later it still works!

Least useful thing in freezer: There was a reason we froze instead of finishing that split pea soup.

Most useful thing in freezer: We have more flavors of ice cream than Nancy Pelosi.

Dream day when this ends: Swim with friends and family in the ocean and go out to dinner at a restaurant to celebrate not just our own health, but hopefully that of our democracy.

Meme that’s keeping me sane for now: Quarantina:

Kristen Hinman
Articles Editor

Kristen Hinman has been editing Washingtonian’s features since 2014. She joined the magazine after editing politics & policy coverage for Bloomberg Businessweek and working as a staff writer for Voice Media Group/Riverfront Times.