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Drew Magary On The 'Hater's Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog'

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And now to an annual tradition - the hater's guide to the Williams-Sonoma holiday catalog. Drew Magary's biting and hilarious take on the over-the-top holiday offerings from that retailer has become just the grinchiness (ph) that we all look forward to this time of year. He calls the candles, Tupperware and Storm Trooper toasters - yes, that's a real thing that you can buy - they're overpriced versions of things that you'd buy at CVS.

Magary is a columnist for Medium's GEN magazine. He also writes for Vice, where the 2019 hater's guide appears. I asked him what he thought when he picked up this year's Williams-Sonoma catalog.

DREW MAGARY: I was worried - (laughter) the irony. I was worried that it was thin, but it turned out that I had gotten a copy that was a bit flimsier. But their e-catalog is very thick. And they're actually - their sales are robust because the millennials - they - they're older than you think, and they can afford, you know, $40 Imperial toasters and all that garbage.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think this has struck such a nerve with people? I mean, why do you think it's so popular? Not only is it the great writing, obviously - or is it about something else - about just the holidays and consumerism and maybe just looking at things that most of us can't afford?

MAGARY: Well, you know, it's weird because, relatively speaking, this is not the most ostentatious, gaudy catalog you can get at Christmas. This isn't, like, the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, which only has, like, crap in it that the president would buy.

But I think that what Williams-Sonoma does is they present to you a very, very specific version of Christmas. It's very Waspy. It's probably in Connecticut somewhere. It conjures up Christmas ethos that is sort of popular, like, in terms of, like, all the Christmas carols you hear from, like, 1950. But, like, in modern America - it has really nothing to do with modern America at all. It's like - people aren't like, oh, I just need - I need stemless wine glasses made of a titanium alloy that could've been used instead to cure cancer. I need - this is what I need.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Your guide ran on the website Deadspin for many years. Now it's on Vice because you resigned, along with all the editorial staff, in protest of a colleague getting fired and how the new management viewed your content. What was lost with Deadspin being gutted?

MAGARY: It's hard for me to talk about it without sounding arrogant, you know? Like, we were important, you know? I'm just saying this as a reader 'cause as a reader of Deadspin, when Spygate 2 happened in the NFL and the Patriots got caught cheating for the 9,000th time, I was like, oh, this is a perfect story. Like, we're all in a Slack room now being like, oh, this would be a perfect story for us to cover.

And it's not covered properly anywhere. You're getting the bro perspective, or you're getting the sort of clinical, you know, I-want-to-be-a-GM perspective on it. But you're not getting sort of a basic, arched-eyebrow sort of look at it, and I miss that. That's what I miss. I just want that to exist again in some form.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to talk a little bit about why you missed your deadline a couple of years ago. You suffered a serious brain hemorrhage that could've killed you.

MAGARY: It should have killed me. It was early December last year. I was at a - I was hosting an awards show for Deadspin. We went to a karaoke bar afterward for a little after-party, and I collapsed. I had no memory of it. I woke up two weeks later after being in a medically induced coma.

I fractured my skull. The skull tore through my inner ear on the right, so I lost hearing in my right ear. I've lost a lot of my sense of smell. I'm also in an odd spot where, because I was in a coma for two weeks, I wasn't awake for all the scary parts. I had to figure out and learn to appreciate that others appreciated that I was still alive, and that took longer than it should have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You wrote about your kids coming to visit you in the hospital on Christmas Day, as this happened around the holidays. Has this time of year changed for you at all because of that?

MAGARY: I was actually really looking forward to this time of year because, first of all, I won't be in a hospital this time - knock on wood. And we're going to see my parents, and we're going to have a regular-a** Christmas. And that's going to be nice. And I'm up and about and being a moron, the way I usually am. So that's good. I've been listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, which I never do. But I was ready to do it this time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So was it harder to write the catalog, then, considering the amount of snark that goes into it?

MAGARY: Yeah. Strangely, no. A rational person would almost die and come back and be like, you know what? Maybe I shouldn't be a hater online. But the first thing I did when I woke up - I was like, wow, I can't wait to hate stuff online.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's writer Drew Magary, who writes the yearly hater's guide to the Williams-Sonoma holiday catalog - unmissable.

Thank you very much, and happy holidays.

MAGARY: Happy holidays to you guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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