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kottke.org posts about books

My Sabbatical Media Diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2022

As you’ll soon read in a comically long “what I did on my summer break” post I’m writing, almost everything I do on a day-to-day basis when I’m working on the site came to a complete halt when I went on sabbatical back in May - I stopped reading online, unsubscribed from all newsletters (save one or two), ignored Twitter, stopped paying attention to the news, didn’t really read my email. Pretty much the only concession I made was to keep track of what I was reading, watching, and listening to. So here you go, my media diet over the past seven months.

Russian Doll (season two). A worthy second act of Natasha Lyonne’s surprising hit. The NYC subway is the best time machine since the police box and the DeLorean. (A-)

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. Another Burkeman banger. If The Antidote was a self-help book for people who don’t like self-help books, this is time management for people who don’t want to organize their lives like a Toyota factory. (A-)

Middlemarch by George Eliot. By far the best thing I read during my sabbatical and one of my favorite books of all time. For whatever reason, I thought this was going to be stuffy liht-tra-chure but it turns out it’s hilarious? Almost every page had me laughing out loud. The writing is exquisite and Eliot’s observations about human behavior are still, 150 years on, remarkably astute. And there’s a scene near the end of the book that is almost cinematic — she painted such a vivid picture that it took my breath away (like, literally I was holding my breath). (A+)

All of This by Rebecca Woolf. You’re about to split up with your husband and then he gets cancer and dies. That is a complex emotional landscape; Woolf describes how she navigated her relief and grief as her life was torn apart and put back together again. A brutally honest read. (B+)

Conversations with Friends. Not quite up to Normal People’s high bar but still pretty entertaining and affecting. (A-)

Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation by Hannah Gadsby. Unexpectedly resonant — one of a number of things I’ve read recently by people who have discovered they’re on the autism spectrum as adults. (B+)

Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante. Didn’t like this one quite as much as her excellent Neapolitan novels. (B+)

Old. Decent M. Night Shyamalan effort. The Sixth Sense remains the only film of his I’ve actually liked though. (B-)

The Mt. Qi Pork Hand-Ripped Noodles Meal Kit from Xi’an Famous Foods. I find most restaurant meal kits to be expensive and the resulting food unsatisfyingly unlike what you’d get at the restaurant. Not so with this one…I feel like it’s an incredible bargain (when paired with some bok choi or something it feeds 4-6 in my experience) and it tastes exactly like what you get at the restaurant. I’ve recommended this to several folks and everyone loves this kit. Note: neither the ingredients or the finished product freezes well — order this when you can make and consume the whole thing over the course of a few days. (A)

Apple Watch. I haven’t worn a watch since the early 90s, so it took me awhile to talk myself into this. But I wanted a good way to track my exercise and perhaps use my phone less. The Watch has succeeded on the first point but not really on the second, and I’m convinced that this thing has no idea how to accurately track calories on mountain bike rides. (B+)

Blade Runner 2049. Always up for a rewatch of this. I (sacrilegiously?) prefer it to the original. (A)

Gattaca. I always use the title of this movie when I need to remember the four nucleotide bases of DNA. Which, admittedly, is not super often. (A-)

Against the Rules (season three). Timely and fascinating exploration of the role of experts in our society by Michael Lewis. (B+)

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman. Finally got around to reading this after finding it on a local bookstore’s table of banned books. A masterpiece. (A+)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I guess I am having a little trouble with caring about Marvel stuff after Endgame. Also, Sam Raimi’s horror thing doesn’t jibe with my dislike/indifference of/about horror movies. (B-)

Everything Everywhere All At Once. Second time. I love this movie so hard. (A+)

Top Gun: Maverick. I was shocked at how much I liked this movie — a Top Gun sequel didn’t have any right to be this entertaining. Straight-up no-frills thrill ride that’s best on a big screen. Loved Val Kilmer’s scenes. (A)

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. I was a little wary of watching this; from what I’d read, it seemed like it was a bunch of Bourdain’s friends and loved ones blaming Asia Argento (who was not interviewed for the film) for his death. It’s a delicate balancing act, but the film doesn’t actually do that, IMO. And the stuff about his early-mid career is great and was personally resonant. (A-)

Slow Burn: The L.A. Riots. I was 18 years old and a busy freshman in college when the 1992 LA riots happened, so this was fascinating to listen to. Joel Anderson was the perfect host for this — authoritative, probing, and skeptical in all the right places. (A)

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann. Nearly unbelievable family stories combined with fascinating insights on what it’s like to be an uncompromising artist. (A-)

Red Notice. Fun but forgettable. (B)

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. Read this after my kids and I watched the Disney+ series. (B+)

Obi Wan Kenobi. This could have been terrible or messed too much with the original trilogy timeline/vibe, but they pulled it off. (B+)

Operation Mincemeat. If you like war dramas, this is a war drama. (B)

Last Night in Soho. Not my favorite Edgar Wright film. (C+)

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. A friend recommended this after I read Maus. Another masterpiece about the effects of authoritarianism. (A)

The Card Counter. Good performances but ultimately not that memorable. (B+)

The Grand Budapest Hotel. A rewatch after many years. Anderson’s most commercially successful film but not my favorite. I love that there are hundreds of reviews of the hotel on Tripadvisor. (B+)

Thor: Love and Thunder. Natalie Portman is a great actress who sometimes seems like she’s a bad actress — see also Star Wars. Maybe superhero sci-fi is not her bag? Also, I think they went a little overboard on the stuff that made Ragnarok so much fun…it just didn’t work as well here. (B)

Persuasion. Oof. A poor adaptation of Austen through the lens of Fleabag. (C-)

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Hinton was in high school when she wrote this so it’s a little uneven, but the voice is amazing. (A-)

For All Mankind (seasons two and three). Not as good as the first season IMO. It’s tough for alt-histories as they get farther and farther from where the timelines split. That said, I am a sucker for such an artfully placed Radiohead song. (B+)

Schitt’s Creek. Late to this but what a delightful show! Was very sad when it ended; I wanted to spend more time with these people. P.S. If you’re in the US and missed this on Netflix, it’s available on Hulu now. (A)

The Bear. I’ll admit I didn’t love this at first — I got my fill of the edgy/grungy aesthetic in the 90s — but it crescendoed nicely. (A-)

Saap. Nisachon Morgan, the chef of this unassuming Thai place in the tiny town of Randolph, VT, won the 2022 James Beard award for best chef in the northeast. A friend of mine has been a regular there for years, so we stopped in for a meal. Let’s just say the Beard Foundation got this one right. (A)

The Gray Man. Gotta be honest — I think I got this confused with Red Notice. (B-)

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Still incredible that this was written in 1931 — it’s strikingly modern in many ways. (A-)

Deception Point by Dan Brown. Total beach read. Tom Clancy did this sort of book much better though. (B)

Lightyear. Solid Pixar effort. (B+)

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. I don’t understand the poor reviews of this series and its (unfair) comparison to the sexier House of the Dragon. It was engaging throughout, though maybe a little slow in places (I didn’t care much for the Harfoots plotline.) And it’s a setup for an epic tale that lasts four more seasons…there’s bound to be a lot of table-setting. (B+)

The Great Canadian Baking Show. Not as good as the original but worth a watch if you’re in Canada (either physically or via VPN), if only to catch how judge Bruno Feldeisen pronounces “sponge” and “layers”. Seasons one and two feature the delightful Dan Levy as one of the hosts. (B+)

Junior Bake Off. I understand that they’re children, but Bake Off just isn’t as fun when the baking is, uh, not great. (B)

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. With five different stories spanning hundreds of years, this was challenging to listen to as an audiobook at first. But it paid off well in the end. (B+)

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Love anything and everything that Chiang writes. (A)

Source Code. I’m not sure this aged super-well but it was entertaining. (B)

Escape into Meaning: Essays on Superman, Public Benches, and Other Obsessions by Evan Puschak. Not quite the target audience here — I feel like this book would have hit me straight between the eyes in my late 20s or early 30s. (B-)

The US and the Holocaust. Essential documentary by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein about how the United States responded (and failed to respond) to Nazi Germany’s persecution and murder of European Jews in the years before, during and after WWII. (A+)

The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees. I’ve watched and read a fair bit about the Holocaust over the years, but watching The US and the Holocaust and reading Maus spurred an interest in learning about how the Holocaust happened in detail. After some research, I settled on this book by Laurence Rees, which provides a good overview on how the Nazis harnessed European anti-Semitism to gain power and then used it to murder six millions Jews. It was unsettling to read but important to know this history so that we do not let it repeat. (A)

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. The perfect little murder mystery. Like a magician revealing her tricks, Christie lays bare how murder mysteries are structured — and it takes nothing away from the thrill of the story. (A-)

Renaissance. Not my favorite Beyoncé album — it’s a little all over the place and the disco/house vibe isn’t exactly my jam — but there are some definitely bangers on here. All Up in Your Mind is my favorite track…I just wish it were longer! (B+)

Star Fluxx. A friend recommended this after I asked him for card/board games that would be good to play with my now-teenaged kids. Part of the game play includes changing the rules of the game as you go…we’ve been enjoying it. (B+)

Unspoken Words. Ambient-ish electronica from Max Cooper. My favorite track from this one is Everything. (A-)

See How They Run. Fun murder mystery with a few laugh out loud moments and great performances by Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell. (B+)

Cool It Down. First new album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for the first time in nearly a decade? Yes yes yes. Spitting Off the Edge of the World is sublime. (A-)

Downton Abbey: A New Era. Sometimes, nothing but a low-stakes British period drama will do. (B+)

Night and Fog. An illuminating but difficult-to-watch companion to my other explorations of the Holocaust. (A)

Munich — The Edge of War. Solid historical drama that takes place around the events of the Munich Agreement that gave the so-called Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in exchange for postponing WWII for about a year. (B+)

The Worst Person in the World. Really interesting and affecting in parts and a great performance by Renate Reinsve. (A-)

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. I can’t say that this book made me want to become obsessed with surfing, but maybe it made me want to become obsessed with something again. Beautifully written and personally resonant. (A)

Enemy. Good acting and direction but this is the type of film that I don’t think I care for anymore. (B)

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. Compelling and well-researched. The Troubles happened during my lifetime and I saw bombings on the news as a kid, but I didn’t have any more than a vague sense of what it was all about until I read this. (A)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. I thought Coogler and co. did a good job in paying tribute to Chadwick Boseman while moving the story forward. But the kids and I agreed that we missed some of the fun and lightheartedness of the first film. (B+)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. We listened to the audiobook in the car over several months — the British Stephen Fry version not the (IMO) inferior Jim Dale versions. (B+)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The rules are, when you finish the audiobook, you watch the movie. (B)

Her Place. A unique dining experience that’s not unlike going over to someone’s house for a dinner party. There are two seatings a night, at 6:00 and 8:30; all parties are seated at the same time. It’s a set menu with no substitutions and everyone in the restaurant is served at the same time. Every course or two, the chef quiets the diners to explain what’s coming up, who cooked it, where the ingredients are from, and anything else she thinks is relevant. It’s operationally smart and creates a great dining environment. Esquire just named it one of the best new restaurants in America. (A)

Tim Carmody’s wedding. Tim has been my friend and a vital part of this website for more than a decade, so it was a real pleasure to be able to join him and Karen McGrane for their wedding. We got to walk through a 20-foot-tall model of a human heart at the Franklin Institute! What a metaphor! (A)

The Handmaid’s Tale (seasons four and five). The first two seasons of this show were great. And then…well, they turned June into an antihero and a superhero, neither of which was very compelling. I dunno, maybe I just can’t get past how Elisabeth Moss can play someone escaping a cult-driven society while belonging to a cult herself. (C)

You’re Wrong About. I’ve given it a chance over the past several months but the new iteration of You’re Wrong About isn’t as good as the Sarah and Michael version. The show is still interesting and guests are fine, but the podcast is missing that comfortable witty banter, pacing, and Michael’s sharp editing (the double intro and outro are awkward and should be discarded). One odd thing for a show that is literally about explaining things: since the format changed, they often don’t plainly describe the subject matter at hand — it’s just assumed that we all know what they’re talking about (the eugenics and Henry Lee Lucas episodes for example). (B)

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte. If I ever own a restaurant, it’s gonna serve one thing, really fucking well. (A)

Arnaud Nicolas. Absolutely mind-blowing charcuterie. (A)

Trains in Europe. Specifically in Switzerland & France and to a lesser extent in Portugal & Italy. *sigh* (A)

The Strasbourg astronomical clock. A mechanical wonder located in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame in Strasbourg, France. I stayed for quite awhile, examining all the details. (B+)

Venice. This city seems fake, like you’re on a movie set or something. Even though Venice is unbelievably crowded in the touristy areas and the food is often so-so, it’s so so so relaxing and quiet to walk around a city without cars. (A)

Switch Sports. Nice to have a sports game on the Switch, but I miss the golf and a couple of games from Wii Sports Resort. (B+)

Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. Couldn’t get into this one. (C+)

Benfica vs. Newcastle United. My very first time watching a football match in a European stadium and wow, what a stadium and experience. Great crowd for a preseason friendly and an 89th minute winner by the home club didn’t hurt either. Almirón, who is making some waves in the Premier League this season, scored two goals for the away team. (A)

Bar Kismet. Reminded me of my dearly departed favorite place in NYC. Great food, great casual atmosphere, creative cocktails, friendly service. (A)

Snowden Deli. My new favorite place for smoked meat in Montreal. (A-)

The Wok: Recipes and Techniques by Kenji López-Alt. Have only scratched the surface of this one, but it’s upped my wok cooking game already. Also, does anyone else’s entire family groan when I weigh in on some food question with “well, Kenji says…” or is that just me? (A-)

Legacy of Speed. Great story about athletics, politics, and activism. (B+)

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson. Conventional overview of the discovery of CRISPR and what it means for the future of humanity. I think there’s a better book to be written about this though. (B)

Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut. Despite it being a modern American classic, I had very little idea what this book was about. I was not expecting….Tralfamadorians. (A-)

Ejaculate Responsibly: A Whole New Way to Think about Abortion by Gabrielle Blair. A clever & compelling common-sense reframing of the abortion debate that places much more of the responsibility for birth control on men (for a whole host of reasons enumerated by Blair). Fellows, this is worth your attention and consideration. (A-)

Enola Holmes 2. Fun and entertaining but could have been 20 minutes shorter. (B)

Tár. Incredible performance from Cate Blanchett. I’m not going to weigh in on what I thought the film was about, but do read Tavi Gevinson’s take in the New Yorker. (A)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

My Recent Media Diet, Spring 2022 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2022

Well hey there, it’s been a few months, so it’s time for another roundup of what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and experiencing recently. In addition to the stuff below, I have a few things in progress: the second season of Russian Doll, Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks, and I just started dipping into Rebecca Woolf’s forthcoming memoir, All of This. Oh, and I’m listening to Russell Shorto’s The Island at the Center of the World on audiobook and the third season of Michael Lewis’ Against the Rules podcast. All always, don’t sweat the letter grades too much.

Everything Everywhere All at Once. This movie is a little bit of a miracle: action, comedy, heartfelt, and a little bit of a mess, all together in a perfect balance. This is the best movie I’ve seen in ages. (A+)

Encanto. The kids and I liked it fine. (B+)

The Expanse (season six). I’m going to miss spending time in this world with these people. (A-)

Matrix by Lauren Groff. Was delighted and moved by this work of historical fiction about Marie de France. (A)

Station Eleven. I loved the slow burn and resolution of this show. I didn’t think I wanted to watch a TV show about a flu pandemic causing the end of civilization, but it was actually perfect. Both actresses who played Kirsten were fantastic. (A/A+)

The Last Duel. Every director is entitled to their Rashomon I guess? And I’m not sure Matt Damon was the right choice here… (B)

Pig. Had no idea what to expect from this one. Even so, Taken + Truffle Hunters + Fight Club + Ratatouille was a surprise. (B+)

Strafford ice cream. This Black-owned dairy farm makes the richest, creamiest ice cream I’ve ever had. So glad I randomly bought a pint of it a few months ago…I’m never going back to anything else. (A)

Severance. Fantastic opening credits sequence and while I wasn’t as enamored as many were after the first few episodes, the show definitely grew on me. (A-)

My Brilliant Friend (season three). I don’t know why there’s no more buzz about this show. The acting, world-building, story, and Max Richter’s soundtrack are all fantastic. And the fight against fascism! (A)

The Gilded Age. Exactly what I wanted out of a period drama from the maker of Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. (B+)

Exhalation. Second time through, this time on audiobook. I love these stories - Chiang is a genius. (A)

The Book of Boba Fett. This turned into season 2.5 of The Mandalorian and I am totally ok with that. (B+)

Other People’s Money podcast. As a snack-sized in-between season for his excellent Against the Rules podcast, Michael Lewis revisits his first book, Liar’s Poker, written about his experience working for Salomon Brothers in the 80s. (A-)

The King’s Man. Not as fun as the first movie but more fun than the second one? But they all could be better. (B)

Turning Red. I loved Domee Shi’s short film, Bao, and this film is similarly clever and heartfelt. (A-)

Drive My Car. Really appreciated the cinematography of this one; wish I could have seen it in the theater. (A-)

Jennifer Packer at The Whitney. I was unfamiliar with Packer’s work before seeing this exhibition, but I’m a fan now. (A-)

Licorice Pizza. I’m really flabbergasted at the two pointless racist scenes in this film. PT Anderson is a better filmmaker than this. It’s a shame because I enjoyed the rest of the film — the two leads are great. Can’t recommend it though. (D)

Death on the Nile. These movies are fun. Sometimes all you want to do is watch Kenneth Branagh chew scenery as Hercule Poirot. (B+)

Moonfall. Not as fun or coherent (I know, lol) as some of Emmerich’s other movies. The acting in this is…not great. (C+)

Hawkeye. Fun but I don’t know how many more Marvel things I want to keep up with. (B)

Spider-Man: No Way Home. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is always fun. (B+)

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Better than the overcomplicated sequel and Mikkelsen was a better Grindelwald than Depp. The story wrapped up so nicely that who knows if there will be a fourth movie. (B)

The Tragedy of Macbeth. Brilliant cinematography and set design. (B+)

The Batman. Oh I don’t know. I guess this was a pretty decent detective story, but I’m not sure why Batman needed to be involved. (B)

The Northman. This would have been much better had it ended 20 minutes sooner. Not sure we needed another movie that concludes with ultimately pointless violent masculine revenge. (B-)

Kimi. Soderbergh does Rear Window + The Conversation. The direction is always tight and Zoë Kravitz is great in this. (A-)

The Mysterious Benedict Society. The kids and I enjoyed this solid adaptation of the first book of a popular series. (B+)

Armageddon. The pace of this movie is incredible — it just drops you right into the action and never stops for more than 2 hours. Also, the top question when searching this movie title on Google is “Is Armageddon movie a true story?” *sigh* (B-)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Solving the World’s Hardest Puzzle Would Take You Until the Heat Death of the Universe

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2022

In an excerpt in The Atlantic from his new book about puzzles, A.J. Jacobs writes about the puzzle he commissioned from Dutch puzzle creator Oskar van Deventer, a “generation puzzle” that will take him almost literally forever to solve.

And then, on a Friday morning, I woke up to an email from Oskar. He had finished making the puzzle — and it worked. He had made a 55-pin Jacobs’ Ladder. Solving it would take 1.2 decillion moves1 (the number 1 followed by 33 digits). Written out, that’s: 1,298,074,214,633,706,907,132,624,082,305,023 moves.

We’d crushed the old record by 13 orders of magnitude. Oskar did some delightfully nerdy calculations on just how long it would take to solve this puzzle. If you were to twist one peg per second, he explained, the puzzle would take about 40 septillion years. By the time you solved it, the sun would have long ago destroyed the Earth and burned out. In fact, all light in the universe would have been extinguished. Only black holes would remain. Moreover, Oskar said, if only one atom were to rub off due to friction for each move, it would erode before you could solve it.

Here’s a video about the puzzle from the guy who designed and built it:

FYI: Jacobs’ book, The Puzzler, includes a “a hidden, super-challenging but solvable puzzle that will earn the first reader to crack it a $10,000 prize”. Good luck!

  1. Small rounding error here…it’s actually 1.3 decillion moves.

The Curious Afterlife of Pop Stars

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2022

For his forthcoming book Exit Stage Left: The Curious Afterlife of Pop Stars, journalist Nick Duerden interviewed pop stars who had made it big about what happened after the bright spotlight of fame moved on. Here are a few interesting bits from an adapted excerpt in The Guardian:

“The pain I feel from the Slits ending is worse than splitting up with a boyfriend,” Albertine wrote, “This feels like the death of a huge part of myself, two whole thirds gone … I’ve got nowhere to go, nothing to do; I’m cast back into the world like a sycamore seed spinning into the wind.”

So what’s it like, I wondered, to still be doing this “job” at 35, and 52, and beyond? What’s it like to have released your debut album to a global roar, and your 12th to barely a whisper? Why the continued compulsion to create at all, to demand yet more adulation? Frankly, what’s the point?

[Suzanne] Vega’s tour, haemorrhaging money, was cut short. When she arrived back at JFK, she looked out for the car her record label would always send to collect her. But there was no car. Not any more. “I took a taxi,” she says.

When Tanya Donelly, of 90s US indie darlings Belly, quit after winning a Grammy (and promptly suffering burnout), she craved normal work and became a doula. When 10,000 Maniacs’ Natalie Merchant grew tired of being a marketable commodity, she quit for the quieter life of a solo artist, and was then duly horrified when her debut album, 1995’s Tigerlily, sold 5m copies, because “then came the treadmill again”. The next time she tried to retire, she did so more forcefully, and now teaches arts and crafts to underprivileged children in New York state. “I look at people like Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney,” she says, referring to the way both legends continue to tour, “and I think to myself: ‘If I were you, I’d just go home and enjoy my garden.’ It’s a question of temperament, clearly.”

Massive New Book Collection Offers Unprecedented Views of the Sistine Chapel

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2022

page spreads from a book featuring photos of the Sistine Chapel

page spreads from a book featuring photos of the Sistine Chapel

page spreads from a book featuring photos of the Sistine Chapel

There are famously no photos allowed when visiting the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. So, this new book series “that includes 1:1 scale images of the masterpieces by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and other Renaissance artists” from the chapel might be your best bet to enjoying this wonder of the art world at home. But here’s the bad news: the 20-pound volume costs $22,000 and has been limited to 1999 copies, no reprints.

Published by Callaway Arts & Entertainment and Italy’s Scripta Maneant, the book uses state-of-the-art color printing to ensure its colors match those used in the Chapel. The close-up detail of each image provides a perspective that cannot be obtained by visiting the Chapel in person. Readers can see the artist’s brush strokes and texture of the paint, as well as the small cracks and imperfections that line the walls and ceiling.

The publishing agreement with the Vatican stipulated that only 1,999 copies could be printed. Six hundred of them are in English. The Italian language copies have already sold out. The deal also stipulates no reprints.

This book looks incredible — two photographers took 270,000 images over 65 nights that were stitched together using 3D software to accurately portray the paintings done on the chapel’s curved surfaces. (via open culture)

Beautiful News: Positive Trends, Uplifting Stats, Creative Solutions

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2022

For the past few years, David McCandless at Beautiful News Daily has been sharing infographics about positive developments in the world, the “stuff we can’t always see because we’re fixated on the negativity of the news”. Now all that good news has been bundled into a new book, Beautiful News: Positive Trends, Uplifting Stats, Creative Solutions. Here are a couple of sample pages from the book:

charts showing the power and potential of geothermal energy

graph showing that world hunger has reached its lowest point in 20 years

The Rembrandt Book Bracelet

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2022

a bracelet made out of tiny Rembrandt drawings of hands being worn on someone's wrist

a bracelet made out of tiny Rembrandt drawings of hands

Inspired by the online availability of high resolution images from the Rijksmuseum’s collection, design firm Duinker and Dochters created a book of 1400 images of hands from Rembrandt’s work that is wearable as a bracelet. From the Cooper Hewitt:

Designers Lia Duinkers and Lyske Gais, are fascinated by the details Rembrandt achieved in his depiction of hands. From hundreds of images of Rembrandt’s hand illustrations, they created an intriguing book-bracelet, an intricate piece that not only pays homage to the talent of Rembrandt, but also spotlights the genius of Duinker and Gais’s skills in graphic design, bookbinding, and jewelry design. Entitled “Rembrandt’s Hands and a Lion’s Paw” the book-bracelet is comprised of 1400 miniature pictures of hands derived from 303 Rembrandt etchings and drawings in the collection of the Rikjsmuseum and available as high-resolution images on the museum’s website.

Here’s what the bracelet looks like in its storage box:

a bracelet made out of tiny Rembrandt drawings of hands in its storage box

What a fantastic little object…you can marvel about how it was made on their website. (via colossal)

Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2022

In January 2020, John Hendrickson wrote an article for The Atlantic about Joe Biden’s stutter…and his own. Hendrickson has written a memoir about his “lifelong struggle to speak”: Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter.

In Life on Delay, Hendrickson writes candidly about bullying, substance abuse, depression, isolation, and other issues stutterers like him face daily. He explores the intricate family dynamics surrounding his own stutter and revisits key people from his past in unguarded interviews. Readers get an over-the-shoulder view of his childhood; his career as a journalist, which once seemed impossible; and his search for a romantic partner. Along the way, Hendrickson guides us through the evolution of speech therapy, the controversial quest for a “magic pill” to end stuttering, and the burgeoning self-help movement within the stuttering community. Beyond his own experiences, he shares portraits of fellow stutterers who have changed his life, and he writes about a pioneering doctor who is upending the field of speech therapy.

Sounds fascinating and the cover is fantastic (who designed it?):

book cover for Life On Delay

See also Austin Kleon’s Our Stutter:

Around Christmastime, my son started stuttering differently and more frequently.

“Why are you so glitchy?” my 5-year-old asked him. “I’m worried about you.”

We might’ve been worried, too, except that we’d been through it before. The previous Christmas, we’d called Dr. Courtney Byrd at the Lang Stuttering Institute here in Austin, Texas, and she assured us that it was perfectly normal for stuttering to change during the holidays and that even good, exciting events can cause changes in stuttering.

So now, when Our Stutter changes, our listening changes.

We listen with more love.

The segment he references from This American Life featuring JJJJJerome Ellis is fantastic and a must-listen if you’ve never heard it before.

Update: Hendrickson reports that the cover is by Oliver Munday, whose work I admire greatly.

Giving Is a Form of Attention

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2022

I’ve been reading David Whyte’s Consolations over the past couple of weeks, skipping around, seeking illumination, counsel, and understanding for some of life’s present challenges. The chapter on giving was particularly resonant; here’s an excerpt:

Giving means paying attention and creating imaginative contact with the one to whom we are giving; it is a form of attention itself, a way of acknowledging and giving thanks for lives other than our own.

The first step in giving may be to create a budget, to make a list or to browse a shopfront or the web, but the essential deed is done through the door of contemplation: of the person, the charity, the cause, finding the essence of the need, the person or the relationship. Out of this image comes the surprise of understanding and the ability again to surprise the recipient by showing that someone else understands them and, through a display of virtuosity, can even identify needs they cannot admit themselves. The full genius of gift-giving is found when we give what a person does not fully feel they deserve, but that does not overstretch the point; it is the appropriate but surprising next step in their lives. It disarms and moves and empowers all at once, while gratifying the one who gives beyond most everyday satisfactions.

To give is to make an imaginative journey and put oneself in the body, the mind and the anticipation of another. To give is to make our own identities more real in the world by committing to something specific in the other person and something tangible that could represent that quality. To give is also to carry out the difficult task of putting something of our own essence in what we have given. The perfect gift may be tiny and inexpensive, but accompanied by a note that moves the recipient; the perfect gift may be enormous, extravagant, expensive and jaw-dropping as a courageous act of flamboyance and devil-may-care love, but to give appropriately always involves a tiny act of courage, a step of coming to meet, of saying I see you, and appreciate you and am also making an implicit promise for the future.

See also Friendship, an essay of Whyte’s I revisit every few months.

Hannah Gadsby Talks About Her Autism Diagnosis

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2022

In an excerpt of her new book, Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation (out today), Hannah Gadsby talks about her later-in-life diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. As often happens whenever I read about an autistic person’s experience, there’s stuff here that really resonates with me. Like:

My meltdowns had always been a mystery to me, so when I was finally diagnosed, I was able to reframe the way I thought about my strange little outbursts. For a start, I became far more compassionate toward myself, which probably halved the distress of the occasions. In the scheme of my life, I have not had very many meltdowns, however. I’m more of a shutdown kind of autistic. From the outside, a shutdown looks very similar to a sulky tantrum, but it is nothing of the sort. I don’t have control, for a start. And I am certainly not ruminating on any kind of emotional narrative, because I have gone into fight or flight, but in my body that translates into neither fight nor flight; I just shut down like a maxed-out power grid in the middle of a storm.

And:

The problem is that communication skills are developed atypically in autistic people and, most often, very slowly. I have always had difficulty articulating my needs, but as I have got older, my language and social skills have improved a great deal. My ability to regulate, however, has not, and nor have my sensory sensitivities. My eternal struggle with these distressing disabilities often gives the impression to others that I am moody, reactive and inconsistent. I say I want one thing, then moments later I will say that I need the opposite. This is not a reflection of my character, but rather a reflection of my neurobiological functioning. I am unable to intuitively understand what I am feeling, and I can often take a much longer time to process the effects of external circumstances than neurotypical thinkers. But it is they who get impatient with me, and under that pressure I feel forced to guess my needs before I have had time to process stuff in my own way, and so mistakes are made. I can be cold and not know it. I can be hungry and not know it. I can need to go to the bathroom and not know it. I can be sad and not know it. I can feel distressed and not know it. I can be unsafe and not know it. You know how sometimes you put your hand under running water and for a brief moment you don’t know if it is hot or cold? That is every minute of my life. Being perpetually potentially unsafe is a great recipe for anxiety. And — spoiler alert — anxiety is bad.

I do not feel these things as acutely as Gadsby describes, but I do feel them — moodiness, sensory sensitivity, emotional shutdowns, difficulty understanding what I’m feeling, and taking a long time to process things. This line: “…under that pressure I feel forced to guess my needs before I have had time to process stuff in my own way, and so mistakes are made” <— woooooo boy I feel that so so much. Maybe, just maybe, he thinks to himself, this is why I’ve worked by myself for the past 16+ years.

Anyway, I loved Nanette and am looking forward to reading her “memoir situation” soon.

The Wizard of Oz as an Allegory for the Presidential Election of 1896

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2022

I’ve never heard this theory before: L. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz as an allegory for the 1896 Presidential election, the central issue of which was the monetary concept of bimetallism. Quickly, from Wikipedia, a definition of bimetallism:

Bimetallism is a monetary standard in which the value of the monetary unit is defined as equivalent to certain quantities of two metals, typically gold and silver, creating a fixed rate of exchange between them.

There was much debate in the run-up to the election over how to define the rate between gold and silver in the US. Here’s where The Wizard of Oz comes in:

Dorothy is whipped out of Kansas by a tornado with her little dog “Toto” (short for teetotalers, who made a loud noise yip-yapping but were otherwise ineffective political companions). On her way to the Land of Oz, Dorothy picks up her electoral coalition. First, the Scarecrow, representing western farmers. “He thinks that he has no brains because his head is stuffed with straw. But we soon learn that he is shrewd and capable. He brings to life a major theme of the free silver movement: that the people, the farmer in particular, were capable of understanding the complex theories that underlay the choice of a standard.”

Next, the Tin Man (or Tin Woodman). The working class man, once a true human, is now just a cog in the industrial machine. Piece by piece his human body was replaced by metallic parts. He is now little more than a machine, a heartless (literally) machine. The Populist hope of the era was a grand farmer-labor coalition that never quite solidified — and we still see residual evidence of this hope in the official name of Minnesota’s Democratic Party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

The Cowardly Lion, then, was William Jennings Bryan himself. Capable of a great roar — his speeches were legendary — alas, to mix metaphors, he was all bark and no bite.

(via kyle westaway)

Slime Molds!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2022

macro photograph of slime molds

macro photograph of slime molds

macro photograph of slime molds

macro photograph of slime molds

I have been a fan of slime molds ever since I read about them in Steven Johnson’s Emergence; they are fascinating. From a NY Times excerpt of Johnson’s book:

The slime mold spends much of its life as thousands of distinct single-celled units, each moving separately from its other comrades. Under the right conditions, those myriad cells will coalesce again into a single, larger organism, which then begins its leisurely crawl across the garden floor, consuming rotting leaves and wood as it moves about. When the environment is less hospitable, the slime mold acts as a single organism; when the weather turns cooler and the mold enjoys a large food supply, “it” becomes a “they.” The slime mold oscillates between being a single creature and a swarm.

In his ongoing series of photographs, Barry Webb captures these bizarre and exotic creatures. Yet another example of not having to look off-world to find alien life. (via colossal)

The Collected Photography of Roger Deakins

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2022

a dog jumps off of a wall onto the beach

a row of deck chairs sit empty in front of the ocean

an empty chair next to a James Bond sportscar

a seagull faces off with a wooden carving of a bear

It’s no surprise that the cinematographer responsible for some of the beautifully shot films ever made is also an avid and talented photographer. Roger Deakins, who won Oscars for his work on Blade Runner: 2049 and 19171 and shot almost all of the Coen brothers’ films, has published a book of his black & white photography from the last five decades: Roger A. Deakins: Byways.

Although photography has remained one of Roger’s few hobbies, more often it is an excuse for him to spend hours just walking, his camera over his shoulder, with no particular purpose but to observe. Some of the images in this book, such as those from Rapa Nui, New Zealand and Australia, he took whilst traveling with James. Others are images that caught his eye as walked on a weekend, or catching the last of the light at the end of a day’s filming whilst working on projects in cities such as Berlin or Budapest, on Sicario in New Mexico, Skyfall in Scotland and in England on 1917.

Artnet has an interview with Deakins about the collection and his photography.

Looking back through these photos, I wondered if my eye had changed, and I don’t think it has, really. The photographs I took back then are really quite simple; they’re pared down in terms of what’s in the frame. I guess that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

  1. Lol, I really want to see a Blade Runner: 1917 now…

Aldous Huxley Narrates a One-Hour Radio Dramatization of Brave New World

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2022

For the radio program CBS Radio Workshop that premiered in January 1956, Aldous Huxley read a one-hour dramatization of his 1932 dystopian1 science fiction novel Brave New World. You can listen to it here or at Internet Archive:

A contemporary review in Time magazine noted the extensive production work that went into the production:

It took three radio sound men, a control-room engineer and five hours of hard work to create the sound that was heard for less than 30 seconds on the air. The sound consisted of a ticking metronome, tom-tom beats, bubbling water, air hose, cow moo, boing! (two types), oscillator, dripping water (two types) and three kinds of wine glasses clicking against each other. Judiciously blended and recorded on tape, the effect was still not quite right. Then the tape was played backward with a little echo added. That did it. The sound depicted the manufacturing of babies in the radio version of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

In addition to Huxley’s book, CBS Radio Workshop dramatized for radio the work of Sinclair Lewis, Edgar Allan Poe, James Thurber, and Mark Twain — you can listen to the entire run of the show here. (via open culture)

  1. In the introduction to the dramatization, Huxley himself calls the world of the book a “negative utopia”.

All the F*cking Books You See at the Bookstore

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2022

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

book cover with the word 'f*ck' in the title

See also Why Are There So Many F**king Best-sellers Right Now With F**k in the Title?, What the F*ck Is Up With All These Sweary F*cking Book Titles?, and What Is With All of the Self-Help Books With Swear Words in the Title?

Highlights from Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2022

No One Talking Lockwood

I read No One Is Talking About This (ebook) by Patricia Lockwood a few months ago, and boy oh boy Lockwood has a knack for sharp, funny, and incisive writing about what it’s like to live in this extremely online yet isolating cultural moment. As part of a very occasional series, here are some of the passages I highlighted from the book.

Page 4:

Capitalism! It was important to hate it, even though it was how you got money. Slowly, slowly, she found herself moving toward a position so philosophical even Jesus couldn’t have held it: that she must hate capitalism while at the same time loving film montages set in department stores.

Page 4:

Politics! The trouble was that they had a dictator now, which, according to some people (white), they had never had before, and according to other people (everyone else), they had only ever been having, constantly, since the beginning of the world. Her stupidity panicked her, as well as the way her voice now sounded when she talked to people who hadn’t stopped being stupid yet.

Page 7:

“Two hundred years ago, you might have been in a coffee shop in Göttingen, shaking the daily paper, hashing out the questions of the day — and I would be shaking out sheets from the windows, not knowing how to read.” But didn’t tyranny always feel like the hand of the way things were?

Page 7:

It was a mistake to believe that other people were not living as deeply as you were. Besides, you were not even living that deeply.

Page 9:

Every day their attention must turn, like the shine on a school of fish, all at once, toward a new person to hate. Sometimes the subject was a war criminal, but other times it was someone who made a heinous substitution in guacamole.

Page 13:

She had become famous for a post that said simply, Can a dog be twins? That was it. Can a dog be twins? It had recently reached the stage of penetration where teens posted the cry-face emoji at her. They were in high school. They were going to remember “Can a dog be twins?” instead of the date of the Treaty of Versailles, which, let’s face it, she didn’t know either.

Page 15 (the “portal” is Lockwood’s shorthand for Twitter (and/or the internet)):

Every country seemed to have a paper called The Globe. She picked them up wherever she went, laying her loonies and her pounds and her kroners down on counters, but often abandoned them halfway through for the immediacy of the portal. For as long as she read the news, line by line and minute by minute, she had some say in what happened, didn’t she? She had to have some say in what happened, even if it was only WHAT?

Page 19:

Every fiber in her being strained. She was trying to hate the police.” Start small and work your way up, “her therapist suggested.” Start by hating Officer Big Mac, a class traitor who is keeping the other residents of McDonaldland from getting the sandwiches that they need, and who when the revolution comes will have the burger of his head eaten for his crimes.” But this insight produced in her only a fresh wave of discouragement. Her therapist was more radical than her?

Page 23:

Our mothers could not stop using horny emojis. They used the winking one with its tongue out on our birthdays, they sent us long rows of the spurting three droplets when it rained. We had told them a thousand times, but they never listened — as long as they lived and loved us, as long as they had split themselves open to have us, they would send us the peach in peach season. NEVER SEND ME THE EGGPLANT AGAIN, MOM! she texted. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU’RE COOKING FOR DINNER!

Page 24:

Previously these communities were imposed on us, along with their mental weather. Now we chose them — or believed that we did. A person might join a site to look at pictures of her nephew and five years later believe in a flat earth.

Page 31:

The chaos and dislocation were so great that people had stopped paying attention to celebrity dogs.

Page 33:

White people, who had the political educations of potatoes — lumpy, unseasoned, and biased toward the Irish — were suddenly feeling compelled to speak out about injustice. This happened once every forty years on average, usually after a period when folk music became popular again. When folk music became popular again, it reminded people that they had ancestors, and then, after a considerable delay, that their ancestors had done bad things.

Page 34:

A fur coat in a movie made in 1946 approached a state of being cruelty-free, so far was it from its original foxes.

Page 36:

“Are you… crying?” her husband asked, slinging his backpack into a chair. She stared at him blurrily. Of course she was crying. Why wasn’t he crying? Hadn’t he seen the video of a woman with a deformed bee for a pet, and the bee loved her, and then the bee died?

Page 42:

One audience member yawned, then another. Long before the current vectors came into being, they had been a contagious species.

Page 44 (see also Alternate Brand Slogans):

It should not be true that, walking the wet streets of international cities, she should suddenly detect the warm, the unmistakable, the broken-to-release-the-vast-steam-of-human-souls, the smell of Subway bread. That she should know it so instantly, that she should stop in her tracks, that she and her husband should turn to each other joyously and sing in harmony the words EAT FRESH. No, it should not be true that modern life made us each a franchise owner of a Subway location of the mind.

Page 47:

The woman next to her on the plane was reading, with that rapacious diffidence, that vacant avidity that characterized the reading of things in the portal, “25 Facts You Didn’t Know About Gone with the Wind.” Number 25 was just: Malnourished Horse.

Page 51:

Some people were very excited to care about Russia again. Others were not going to do it no matter what. Because above all else, the Cold War had been embarrassing.

Page 52:

In contrast with her generation, which had spent most of its time online learning to code so that it could add crude butterfly animations to the backgrounds of its weblogs, the generation immediately following had spent most of its time online making incredibly bigoted jokes in order to laugh at the idiots who were stupid enough to think they meant it. Except after a while they did mean it, and then somehow at the end of it they were Nazis. Was this always how it happened?

Page 54:

Certain people were born with the internet inside them and suffered greatly from it.

Page 55:

The unabomber had been right about everything! Well… not everything. The unabomber stuff he had gotten wrong. But that stuff about the Industrial Revolution had been right on the money.

Page 58:

Did you read the piece? It’s there in the piece. Did you even read the piece? Um, I wrote the piece.

Page 60:

A conversation with a future grandchild. She lifts her eyes, as blue as willow ware. The tips of her braids twitch with innocence. “So you were all calling each other bitch, and that was funny, and then you were all calling each other binch, and that was even funnier?” How could you explain it? Which words, and in which order, could you possibly utter that would make her understand? “… yes binch

Page 65:

SHOOT IT IN MY VEINS, we said, whenever the headline was too perfect, the juxtaposition too good to be true. SHOOT IT IN MY VEINS, we said, when the Flat Earth Society announced it had members all over the globe.

Page 70:

Was it better to resist the new language where it stole, defanged ,co-opted, consumed, or was it better to text thanksgiving titties be poppin to all your friends on the fourth Thursday of November, just as the humble bird of reason, which could never have represented us on our silver dollars, made its final unwilling sacrifice to our willingness to eat and be eaten by each other?

Page 72 (about Twitter, and the internet more broadly):

It had also once been the place where you sounded like yourself. Gradually it had become the place where we sounded like each other, through some erosion of wind or water on a self not nearly as firm as stone.

Page 73:

The words Merry Christmas were now hurled like a challenge. They no longer meant newborn kings, or the dangling silver notes of a sleigh ride, or high childish hopes for snow. They meant “Do you accept Herr Santa as the all-powerful leader of the new white ethnostate?”

Page 76:

The difference between her and her sister could be attributed to the fact that she came of age in the nineties, during the heyday of plaid and heroin, while her sister came of age in the 2000s, during the heyday of thongs and cocaine. That was when everything got a little chihuahua and started starring in its own show. That was when we saw the whole world’s waxed pussy getting out of a car, and said, more.

Page 86:

Modern womanhood was more about rubbing snail mucus on your face than she had thought it would be. But it had always been something, hadn’t it? Taking drops of arsenic. Winding bandages around the feet. Polishing your teeth with lead. It was so easy to believe you freely chose the paints, polishes, and waist-trainers of your own time, while looking back with tremendous pity to women of the past in their whalebones; that you took the longest strides your body was capable of, while women of the past limped forward on broken arches.

Page 90:

The people who lived in the portal were often compared to those legendary experiment rats who kept hitting a button over and over to get a pellet. But at least the rats were getting a pellet, or the hope of a pellet, or the memory of a pellet. When we hit the button, all we were getting was to be more of a rat.

Page 95:

What do you mean you’ve been spying on me? she thought — hot, blind, unreasoning, on the toilet. What do you mean you’ve been spying on me, with this thing in my hand that is an eye?

Page 96:

On a slow news day, we hung suspended from meathooks, dangling over the abyss. On a fast news day, it was like we had swallowed all of NASCAR and were about to crash into the wall. Either way, it felt like something a dude named Randy was in charge of.

Page 118:

They kept raising their hands excitedly to high-five, for they had discovered something even better than being soulmates: that they were exactly, and happily, and hopelessly, the same amount of online.

Page 127:

Compositionally, she appeared to be made of 14 percent classical music, the kind you were supposed to listen to while you were studying.

Page 133 (re: abortion):

“Surely there must be exceptions,” her father ventured, the man who had spent his entire existence crusading against the exception. His white-hairy hand traveled to his belt, the way it always did when he was afraid. He did not want to live in the world he had made, but when it came right down to it, did any of us?

Page 136:

But that bit of the Wikipedia entry, the end, was always the most suspect.

Page 137:

“Still,” the doctors urged them finally, “don’t go home and look this up.” That was the difference between the old generation and the new, though. She would rather die than not look something up. She would actually rather die.

Page 143:

How she wished she had never read that article about octopus intelligence, because now every time she sliced into a charred tentacle among blameless new potatoes she thought to herself, I am eating a mind, I am eating a mind, I am eating a fine grasp of the subject at hand.

Page 153:

Bo’s mother called his feeding tube his cheeseburgers. It was important to do things like that — if you didn’t call your baby’s feeding tube his cheeseburgers, then somehow the feeding tube won.

Page 153:

“Ableism,” her husband said, encountering this concept for the very first time. “Moby-Dick… was ableist… to Captain Ahab?”

Page 169:

The round rainbow, her answers told her when she touched down, was actually called a Glory.

And so the round rainbow you sometimes see when flying is called a glory. Of course I looked it up; I’d rather die than not look it up.

Update: It seems like a big chunk of the book was first delivered as a lecture at a London Review of Books event in early 2019. (via @timschfer)

Rarely Published Maps and Paintings by J.R.R. Tolkien Go Online

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2022

painting by J.R.R. Tolkien of Hobbiton

map by J.R.R. Tolkien from The Hobbit

calligraphy by J.R.R. Tolkien

map by J.R.R. Tolkien from The Hobbit

drawing by J.R.R. Tolkien of a coiled dragon

The Tolkien Estate has built a new website dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien and it includes dozens of hard-drawn maps, illustrations, paintings, and calligraphic works done by the author in the course of writing his books. Tolkien was a talented artist and his maps and visual art were an integral part of his work. From Artnet:

Tolkien’s art and writings went hand and hand, with illustrations serving as an an integral part of his creative process. Sometimes the words would inspire the artwork, and sometimes drawing a scene would move the narrative in new directions.

The author meticulously mapped out the world of Middle Earth to ensure the accurate movements of his large cast of characters.

I was lucky enough to see some of these maps and drawings in person at this 2019 exhibition at the Morgan Library — great stuff. (via @tedgioia)

Sanctions Would Bite Russia Harder with Pro-Transparency Finance Reforms

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2022

The other day I shared a video and article by Oliver Bullough on how the UK enables Russia’s oligarchs to launder their money: Putin’s Oligarchs and the London Laundromat. Writer and researcher Casey Michel, author of American Kleptocracy: How the U.S. Created the World’s Greatest Money Laundering Scheme in History, is here to tell us that the US and EU countries are also guilty here. In a piece for The Atlantic, Michel argues that the present sanctions against Russia would be much more effective if the West were willing to address the use of anonymous shell companies and trusts to launder funds.

The Western response has been far broader than most experts anticipated, and threatens to throw the Russian economy into chaos. Yet there’s a catch. Absent significant domestic reforms in the West — reforms that should have been enacted long ago — sanctions targeted at the oligarchic and official figures close to Russian President Vladmir Putin risk inflicting little more than a flesh wound on Russia’s imperial kleptocracy.

Rampant financial anonymity in places like the U.S. makes it relatively easy for powerful rich people to evade sanctions. A Russian oligarch may have multimillion-dollar mansions in Washington, D.C.; or multiple steel plants across the Rust Belt; or a controlling stake in a hedge fund in Greenwich, Connecticut; or an entire fleet of private jets in California; or an array of lawyers setting up purchases at art houses around the country. And all of that wealth can be hidden-perfectly legally-behind anonymous shell companies and trusts that are enormously difficult to penetrate.

If Western policy makers hope to hold Putin’s cronies truly accountable, sanctions will have to be paired with pro-transparency reforms that can disassemble this web of secrecy. Western governments should start by ending anonymity in shell companies and trusts; demanding basic anti-money-laundering checks for lawyers, art gallerists, and auction-house managers; and closing loopholes that allow anonymity in the real-estate, private-equity, and hedge-fund industries. That is, if the sanctions are to retain their bite, the entire counter-kleptocracy playbook needs to be implemented-immediately.

The Helpers: Profiles from the Front Lines of the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2022

Dismayed by the narrative that Americans did nothing to help each other out during the pandemic, Kathy Gilsinan took Mister Rogers’ advice and went to “look for the helpers”. The result is her new book, The Helpers: Profiles from the Front Lines of the Pandemic, a collection of profiles of those who worked with millions and millions of other Americans to combat the pandemic. From an excerpt in The Atlantic:

Paul Cary, for instance, was well known within the medical system in Aurora, Colorado, where he served as a paramedic — not only for his walrus mustache or the near-obsessive hours he put in, but also for his warmth. Harried and cynical ER nurses would light up when Cary arrived and asked after their families, cracking jokes about living the dream even as he was spending the evening ferrying gunshot victims or septic patients to the hospital. He wanted to be there for people on their worst days; that was the job. And in late March 2020, with COVID deaths mounting into the hundreds in New York City but still in the low double digits in his own state, Cary, a retired firefighter, decided to race toward the fire: He drove his ambulance 28 hours across the country to help relieve overwhelmed paramedics in New York. He did this knowing that, at 66, with a blood-clot disorder, a bad back, and other health issues, he was squarely in the demographic COVID preferred to kill.

The excerpt ends with an important point (re: “feel good” news & societal failure) and I’m going to quote it here:

People, of course, fail, and so do institutions. Individual goodwill and altruism cannot by themselves compensate for systemic weaknesses, and no kind volunteer alone will fix decades of underinvestment in public health or vulnerable supply chains for protective equipment. No feel-good story can compensate for the loss of more than 900,000 Americans or repair the heartbreak of millions of grieving loved ones. Still, there are those — many more than perhaps we expect — who look impossible odds in the eyes and fight anyway.

The Helpers: Profiles from the Front Lines of the Pandemic is available online and in bookstores now.

My Brilliant Friend, Season Three

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2022

So, I have been waiting for months for season three of HBO’s My Brilliant Friend series (based on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels) and somehow it has snuck in1 and started without me noticing! Anyway, the s03 trailer is above, the first episode aired earlier this week & is on HBO Max now, and new episodes will follow every Monday.

If you haven’t seen the show, you should check out the first two seasons first…this show is a gem and I wish HBO was doing more to promote it.

  1. I’ve logged into HBO Max like 4 times this week and it has shown me nothing about the show, even though I watched the first two seasons of it. Even now, I had to dig to find it. Algorithm, you had one job…

A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2022

book cover of Allow Me To Retort by Elie Mystal

That’s the subtitle of a new book by Elie Mystal — the full title is Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution. From the Kirkus review:

Mystal, an analyst at MSNBC and legal editor for the Nation, reads the Constitution from the point of view of a Black man keenly aware of the document’s origins in a slaveholding nation. “It is a document designed to create a society of enduring white male dominance,” he writes, “hastily edited in the margins to allow for what basic political rights white men could be convinced to share.” As the author abundantly demonstrates, people of color and women have always been afterthoughts, and recent conservative applications of constitutional doctrine have been meant to further suppress the rights of those groups. “The law is not science,” writes the author, “it’s jazz. It’s a series of iterations based off a few consistent beats.” Conservative originalists know this, but they hide their prejudices behind the notion that the text is immutable. Mystal shows how there’s plenty of room for change if one follows a rule hidden in plain sight: “There’s no objective reason that the Ninth Amendment should be applied to the states any less robustly than the Second Amendment. The only difference is that the rights and privileges that the Ninth Amendment protects weren’t on the original white supremacist, noninclusive list.” Article by article, amendment by amendment, Mystal takes down that original list and offers notes on how it might be improved as a set of laws that protect us all, largely by rejecting conservative interpretations of rights enumerated and otherwise.

The Ninth Amendment, in case you were wondering, reads: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” So basically, the Bill of Rights (and subsequent Constitutional amendments) are not the only rights Americans have.

The Leaked Recipes Cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2022

two photos, one of a fish next to a power strip and the other of a computer mouse submerged in a pot of soup

From Demetria Glace and photographer Emilie Baltz, The Leaked Recipes Cookbook is a collection of over 50 recipes from the world’s biggest email leaks and hacks.

This book compiles major email leaks of the past 15 years through the theme of cooking. Part reportage, part cookbook, it showcases over 50 recipes for breakfast, dips, main dishes, sides and desserts. The recipes come from emails released after having been hacked, leaked, breached and uploaded by governments as part of large-scale investigations. Indulge in once-confidential instructions, shared by staff from the world’s most influential companies, government workers linked to Hillary Clinton’s emails and more.

Mmm, Butter Emails. (via a thing or two)

Sea State

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2022

a Scottish oil rig in the North Sea

This morning, I randomly ran across this New Yorker review of a memoir by Tabitha Lasley called Sea State. I couldn’t stop reading it, this review, and went down a rabbit hole of other reviews of the book: the NY Times, the Guardian, and the London Review of Books.

After losing four years of progress on a novel, Lasley’s work on Sea State began when she visited Aberdeen, Scotland to research what life is like for oil rig workers, saying she “wanted to see what men were like with no women around”. And then, more or less immediately, she started a relationship with one of her (married) subjects.

Lasley’s first interviewee is an offshore worker from Teesside, an area that was once a hub of steel and chemical manufacturing. Caden has clear blue eyes, a jockey’s body, and tattoos of the names of his wife and twin daughters. He likes the gym, ironing, the autobiographies of Mafia dons, and bio-pics about soccer hooligans. Lasley spots him at an airport, where his kit bag — a kind of waterproof duffel, designed in accordance with helicopter requirements — gives him away. She approaches him, explains her project, and asks for his contact details. Caden demurs, but gives her number to a friend, who invites her to a pub with a group of fellow-riggers. Afterward, Lasley invites Caden to her hotel. Within weeks, he’s skiving off family life to sleep with Lasley in airport hotel rooms, laying the blame on the state of the sea — too rough for the chopper to take off — for not being able to make it home.

Now involved and “around”, Lasley turned the book into a hybrid: personal memoir + a class-oriented look at the concentrated masculinity of life aboard oil rigs. And somehow, according to the reviews, this actually works. Fascinating!

My Recent Media Diet, the Belated End of 2021 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 18, 2022

“Recent” is increasingly becoming a lie with these media diet posts…the last one I did was back on Sept 13, right before my life went to hell in a handcart for a couple of months.1 So let’s get to it: a list of short reviews of all the movies, books, music, TV shows, podcasts, and other things I’ve enjoyed (or not) in the last few months of 2021 (as well as a few 2022 items). As usual, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades — they are subjective and inconsistent. Oh and some of this stuff might have already popped up in my end-of-2021 review, but I’ll try and say something different about them here.

The Great British Baking Show. I already covered this in the last media diet (and the year-end review), but I wanted to include it here as well because it’s become a real favorite. Rahul 4eva! (A)

Project Hail Mary. After my whole family read this and couldn’t stop talking about it, I had to read it too. And……it was alright. I guess I don’t quite get the acclaim for this book — reminded me of a sci-fi Da Vinci Code. Looking forward to the movie being better. (B)

The French Dispatch. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since The Royal Tenenbaums? (A)

The Hunger Games. I watched all four movies in this series because I needed something familiar and also mindless to switch my brain off. (B+)

Ted Lasso (season two). Not quite as good as the first season and definitely not as beloved because they had some new ground to cover, but I enjoyed the season as a whole. And put me down as a fan of the Coach Beard Rumspringa episode. (A-)

Izakaya Minato. I don’t exactly know what it was about this meal, but I’m still thinking about it more than 3 months later. Really fresh, clean, creative food. (A)

Magnus on Water. Amazing cocktails, great service, and the outdoor seating area was just right. (A-)

The Lost Daughter. Gah, so good! Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, and Jessie Buckley are all fantastic and the direction and cinematography (all those tight, almost suffocating shots) were just great. Gonna be thinking about this one for awhile. (A+)

Therapy. I’ve got more to say about this at some point, but I’ve been seeing a therapist since September and it’s been really helpful. (A)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I enjoyed this quite a bit, more than Black Widow or The Eternals (haven’t seen latest Spidey yet). (B+)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings soundtrack. Really, really good — been blasting this in the car a lot lately. (A)

Dune. Felt good to see a serious blockbuster in the theater again. And to be able to rewatch it on HBO Max a couple of weeks later. (A-)

Ravine. I’ve only played this a couple of times with the kids, but it got high marks all around for fun and quick rounds. (B+)

The Power of the Dog. A slow burn with a great payoff. Wonderful cast & direction. (A)

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood. I loved the first half of this book — lots of pithy observations about social media. (B+)

Don’t Look Up. Everyone is comparing this to Dr Strangelove and while it’s not quite on that level, it certainly does some of the same things for climate change that DS did for nuclear war. (A)

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut. A super interesting mix of historical fact and narrative fiction about the swift technological changes that took place in the early 20th century that altered history in small and large ways. (A-)

Wingspan. Bought this game after reading Dan Kois’ review and our family has been enjoying it. (B+)

Pirates of the Caribbean. Still fun. I remember being very skeptical before seeing this for the first time back when it came out, but as soon as Jack Sparrow stepped off his sinking ship right onto the dock, I knew it was going to be good. (A-)

Clear and Present Danger. I don’t actually remember watching much of this…must have switched off my brain too much. (-)

Spies in Disguise. I read the plot synopsis of this on Wikipedia and I still don’t remember watching any of it. I think the kids liked it? (-)

The Courier. Solid spy thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Based on a true story. (B+)

Finch. Charming but nothing much actually happens? (B)

Eternals. Now that the Infinity Saga is done, I’m not sure how much interest I’m going to have in some of these new characters & storylines. (B)

Mad Max Fury Road. Seventh rewatch? Eighth? I just plain love this movie. (A)

No Time to Die. I am not really a James Bond fan but I liked this one. (B+)

Succession (season three). This got off to a bit of a slow, meandering start, but the last few episodes were just fantastic. (A)

Omicron variant. You think you’re out but they keep pulling you back in. (F-)

Swimming with bioluminescent plankton. Thought the water was going to glow as I swam through it, but it was more like sparkly fireworks. Magical. (A)

Xolo Tacos. We stumbled in here for dinner after nothing else looked good and were rewarded with the best tacos on Holbox. The carne asada taco might be the best taco I’ve had in years and we ended up ordering a second round. (A)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney. I liked this one slightly less than her first two novels. But only slightly. (A-)

Free Guy. Fun entrant into the video game movie genre. (B+)

Hacks. It was fine but ultimately didn’t understand why so many people on my timeline were raving about this. (B+)

NY Times Crossword app. I’ve never been much for crossword puzzles, but the Times app does all the fiddly work (e.g. of finding the current clue’s boxes, etc.) for me so I’ve been enjoying dipping my toe into the Monday and Tuesday puzzles. But the Minis and Spelling Bee are where it’s at for me. (B+)

The Hunt for Red October. Still a great thriller. (A-)

Avatar: The Last Airbender. After watching The Legend of Korra, the kids and I went back to watch Avatar. The first season and a half is kinda uneven, but overall we really liked it. The beach episode has to be one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen on television and the one where Aang is hallucinating from the lack of sleep made my kids laugh so hard I thought they were going to pass out. (A-)

The Matrix Resurrections. I am someone who didn’t dislike the second and third Matrix movies as much as everyone else seemed to, and so it is with this one as well. Wish I could have seen this in the theater, but Omicron. (A-)

The Wrong Trousers. The last five minutes is still maybe the best chase scene in movie history. (A)

Preview of the next media diet: I am enjoying the hell out of Lauren Groff’s Matrix, want to read The Lost Daughter, just started the last season of The Expanse, listening to the audiobook version of Exhalation, want to check out Station Eleven on HBO Max, and plan on watching Pig, Drive My Car, and Licorice Pizza. Oh, and I need to dig into the second seasons of The Great and For All Mankind. And more GBBO! We’ll see how much of that I actually follow through on…

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

  1. Nothing serious, I am embarrassed to say. I just got really into the weeds with a number of things and I kinda fell to pieces.

The Best Book Covers of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

book cover of Outlawed by Anna North

book cover of Dead Souls by Sam Riviere

book cover of Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski

book cover of Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit

book cover of Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin

book cover of Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh

book cover of Nectarine by Chad Campbell

I only read ebooks these days and don’t make it to the one decent bookstore within a 60-minute drive from my house that often, but I still love love book covers. As I do every year, I’ve perused the end-of-year lists of the best covers and pulled out some favorites, which I’ve embedded above.

From top to bottom: Outlawed by Anna North, designed by Rachel Willey; Dead Souls by Sam Riviere, designed by Jamie Keenan; Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski, designed by Daniel Benneworth-Gray; Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, designed by Gray318; Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin, designed by Tamara Shopsin;1Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh, designed by Jack Smyth; and Nectarine by Chad Campbell, designed by by Dave Drummond.

You can find many more great covers in these lists: The 50 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Print), The Best Book Covers of 2021 (NY Times), The 101 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Literary Hub), Notable Book Covers of 2021 (The Casual Optimist), 8 of the Best Book Covers of 2021 (AIGA Eye on Design), The best book covers of the year 2021 (Creative Review), and The Best Book Covers of 2021 (Book Riot).

See also my lists from past years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

  1. This is awesome. If I ever write a book with a traditional publisher, I’m going to fight (probably unsuccessfully) to design the cover.

Redesigned Book Spines by Ootje Oxenaar

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2022

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

Over a period of 50 years, legendary Dutch designer Ootje Oxenaar drew replacement book cover spines for the books in his library. A selection of his spine replacements are collected in a book called Ootje Oxenaar Spines.

Although renowned for his designs for Dutch banknotes and postage stamps, Oxenaar was a prolific designer of book spines. This wasn’t done for commercial publishers, but for books in his own library. When he didn’t care for what he saw poking out from a shelf (or when he needed to procrastinate) he would make his own spine for a book. The result is a fantastic and fantastical mosaic made of tall-and-skinny strips, hand-lettered and drawn with great skill and great whimsy.

Check out Steven Heller’s post at Print for more examples. (via i love typography)

18 Things That Kept Me Going In 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2021

a snowy peak through the trees

For a few years now, I’ve been keeping track of all the stuff I read, watch, listen to, and experience — I call it my media diet. As 2021 comes to a close, I’m sharing some of my favorite things from a year that was somehow even weirder than last year.

The French Dispatch. I saw this twice and loved it. Maybe my favorite Wes Anderson movie since Tenenbaums? (That feels crazy to say but also might be true?)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. This podcast conversation with poet David Whyte felt like a turning point in my year.

Strava. I first tried mountain biking in the fall of 2020 and this year it blossomed into a favorite hobby. Despite a lot of other responsibilities and engagements, I got out on the bike once or twice a week during the spring, summer, and fall and missed it when I couldn’t manage a ride. I recorded all of my rides with Strava and was gratified to see progress and to try and beat my personal bests.

Handshake Speakeasy. Post-vaccination (and pre-Delta and Omicron) I was able to travel a bit. This new-ish bar in Mexico City had some of the coolest, tasty, and unique cocktails I’ve ever had. (Handshake was named the 25th best bar in the world earlier this month.) Baltra Bar was also quite good. Restaurant-wise, Quintonil was amazing. But just walking around the city, eating street food, going to museums, ducking into bookstores, and wandering through markets was such a fantastic experience after a difficult 16 months.

Fleabag (season two). I rewatched this when I was deep in the emotional weeds this summer and I think it might be the best season of television ever made. I laughed like a maniac and cried like a baby. The final scene is absolute perfection.

The Great British Bake-Off. My kids got me into this over the summer and it is, as many of you discovered in early 2020, the perfect low-stakes entertainment for getting one’s mind off of current events for 60 minutes at a time.

Pfizer-BioNTech (BNT162b2) and Moderna (mRNA-1273) Covid-19 Vaccines. Getting vaccinated (full three-series) and seeing my kids & friends (and their kids) get fully vaccinated was the absolute best thing that happened to me this year. Getting back to some semblance of normalcy, at least in certain situations at certain times with certain people, while being protected against severe disease and death, felt incredible.

The Premier League. I’ve watched a lot of football this year, mostly the Premier League but also the occasional PSG, Dortmund, Bayern, and Barca matches. Oh, and the Euros and Copa America. I don’t have a favorite team, I just like watching the best players in the world play football at a high level. I know this particular way of being a sports fan is often offensive to Real Sports Fans™ because you need to have a team and get upset and rend your garments when they lose and beat up the other teams’ fans, but my parents didn’t happen to live within 20 miles of an English soccer stadium when I was born, so I can do what I like.

You’re Wrong About. For the second year in a row, my favorite podcast. I couldn’t wait for the new episodes to drop on Monday. However. Michael Hobbes left the show in October and while I’ve been giving the show’s new format the benefit of the doubt, I’m not sure about it. Both Hobbes and co-host Sarah Marshall are individually wonderful but it was their combination that made the show marvelous and that bit is missing now.

Succession (season 3). My interest waned at times in the middle of the season, but I thought the last two episodes were outstanding. Plus, in preparation for this season, I watched season two’s finale and got to see this scene again.

The ocean. This should be on the list every year. Visiting the ocean nourishes my soul like little else and I was able to make that happen several times this year.

The Painter and the Thief. Remarkable documentary and maybe the best film I saw this year.

L.L. Bean fleece-lined hoodie. I lived in this thing for most of the year — so comfortable.

Dune. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this movie so much.

Donda. Ugh, I know. I continue to hate how much I love parts of this album.

The pandemic scribes. Even if you’re not a conspiracy theorist in thrall to religion, fascist media, or “wellness”, it’s been difficult to find steady, non-hysterical information, analysis, and opinion about the pandemic. I’m grateful to Zeynep Tufekci, Eric Topol, Ed Yong, Katelyn Jetelina, Jodi Ettenberg, Carl Zimmer, and others for keeping me informed.

NYC. I missed this place immensely: the restaurants, the bars, the museums, the people, the subway, the bookstores, the architecture, the crowds, the culture, the walkability. Keep all the outdoor seating and space reclaimed from cars please!

Wandavision. I was extremely charmed by this wonderful love letter to television.

I also enjoyed Mare of Easttown, Nixon at War, Summer of Soul, Black Art: In the Absence of Light, The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, Ted Lasso (season two), Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, Soul (+ the soundtrack), and Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin but don’t have anything specific to say about them, for secret reasons. I’ll see you in 2022.

Decoding Manhattan: Island of Diagrams, Maps, and Graphics

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2021

pages of a book called Decoding Manhattan with maps, charts, and other graphic representations of the city

Well, I’m not sure this book could be any further up my alley; I mean:

The life and legend of New York City, from the size of its skyscrapers to the ways of its inhabitants, is vividly captured in this lively collection of more than 250 maps, cross sections, flowcharts, tables, board games, cartoons and infographics, and other unique diagrams spanning 150 years. Superstars such as Saul Steinberg, Maira Kalman, Christoph Niemann, Roz Chast, and Milton Glaser butt up against the unsung heroes of the popular press in a book that is made not only for lovers of New York but also for anyone who enjoys or works with information design.

The Best Books of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2021

The Best Books of 2021

Like last year, I had a lot of trouble reading this year and even more difficulty regularly visiting good book stores, with months-long stretches without both. So, I went into compiling this post with a (fairly) clean slate and it was exciting to learn about what’s been good this year.

I consulted a number of best-of lists (fiction, nonfiction, kids, poetry, audiobooks, food/cooking, art) and here’s what popped out at me. [All source lists are included at the bottom of the post. ** denotes books I have read or am currently reading.]

Beautiful World, Where Are You (ebook) by Sally Rooney.**

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young — but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

When We Cease to Understand the World (ebook) by Benjamín Labatut.

When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about the complicated links between scientific and mathematical discovery, madness, and destruction.

Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger—these are some of luminaries into whose troubled lives Benjamín Labatut thrusts the reader, showing us how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.

Crying in H Mart (ebook) by Michelle Zauner.

In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.

Klara and the Sun (ebook) by Kazuo Ishiguro.**

Here is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir (ebook) by Ashley C. Ford.

Through poverty, adolescence, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley C. Ford wishes she could turn to her father for hope and encouragement. There are just a few problems: he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there. She doesn’t know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men. In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates. When the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley desperately searches for meaning in the chaos. Then, her grandmother reveals the truth about her father’s incarceration… and Ashley’s entire world is turned upside down.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (ebook) by Patrick Radden Keefe.

A grand, devastating portrait of three generations of the Sackler family, famed for their philanthropy, whose fortune was built by Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by OxyContin. From the prize-winning and bestselling author of Say Nothing, as featured in the HBO documentary Crime of the Century.

The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions — Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for the opioid crisis.

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (ebook) by Clint Smith.

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks — those that are honest about the past and those that are not — that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves.

No One Is Talking About This (ebook) by Patricia Lockwood.**

As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms the portal, where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats — from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness — begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void.

Cloud Cuckoo Land (ebook) by Anthony Doerr.

Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous third novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope — and a book.

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (ebook) edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The New York Times Magazine’s award-winning “1619 Project” issue reframed our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work, weaving together eighteen essays that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America with thirty-six poems and works of fiction that illuminate key moments of oppression, struggle, and resistance. The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself.

Matrix (ebook) by Lauren Groff.

One of our best American writers, Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies.

Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (ebook) by Oliver Burkeman.

Drawing on the insights of both ancient and contemporary philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual teachers, Oliver Burkeman delivers an entertaining, humorous, practical, and ultimately profound guide to time and time management. Rejecting the futile modern fixation on “getting everything done,” Four Thousand Weeks introduces readers to tools for constructing a meaningful life by embracing finitude, showing how many of the unhelpful ways we’ve come to think about time aren’t inescapable, unchanging truths, but choices we’ve made as individuals and as a society — and that we could do things differently.

Harlem Shuffle (ebook) by Colson Whitehead.

Harlem Shuffle’s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

Yolk (ebook) by Mary H.K. Choi.

From New York Times bestselling author Mary H.K. Choi comes a funny and emotional story about two estranged sisters and how far they’ll go to save one of their lives — even if it means swapping identities.

The Lincoln Highway (ebook) by Amor Towles.

The bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction returns with a stylish and propulsive novel set in 1950s America.

I’m all jazzed up about reading now…I love books and I need to figure out how to read more of them in the upcoming year. Here are some of the lists I used to assemble this collection:

Note: When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. This year, I’m linking mostly to Bookshop.org but if you read on the Kindle or Bookshop is out of stock, you can try Amazon. Thanks for supporting the site!

The Dark Forest (Or, Why We Should Keep Still and Not Look for Aliens)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2021

Inspired by the second book in Liu Cixin’s excellent Three-Body Problem trilogy, Kurzgesagt made a video about the Dark Forest solution to the Fermi paradox.

Confronted with the seemingly empty universe, humanity faces a dilemma. We desperately want to know if we are alone in the Milky Way. We want to call out and reveal ourselves to anyone watching but that could be the last thing we ever do. Because maybe the universe is not empty. Maybe it’s full of civilizations but they are hiding from each other. Maybe the civilizations that attracted attention in the past were wiped away by invisible arrows. This is the Dark Forest solution to the Fermi paradox.

I have The Dark Forest on the Kindle, so I looked up how this is explained in the book (spoilers, obvs):

“The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life-another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod-there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox.”

Shi Qiang lit another cigarette, if only to have a bit of light.

“But in this dark forest, there’s a stupid child called humanity, who has built a bonfire and is standing beside it shouting, ‘Here I am! Here I am!’” Luo Ji said.

“Has anyone heard it?”

“That’s guaranteed. But those shouts alone can’t be used to determine the child’s location. Humanity has not yet transmitted information about the exact position of Earth and the Solar System into the universe. From the information that has been sent out, all that can be learned is the distance between Earth and Trisolaris, and their general heading in the Milky Way. The precise location of the two worlds is still a mystery. Since we’re located in the wilderness of the periphery of the galaxy, we’re a little safer.”

That’s the basic idea, but there’s more to it…you should watch the video or, even better, read the series — I’ve read the entire trilogy twice and this makes me want to read it again! (I loved the Drive Easter egg towards the end of the video. Well played.)