homeaboutarchives + tagsnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivesnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

kottke.org posts about books

A Livestream Reading of Emily Wilson’s The Odyssey Translation

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2020

Odyssey Live Read

On two consecutive weekends in late August (Aug 20-22 & Aug 27-29), the Oklahoma Contemporary museum will be livestreaming a reading of Emily Wilson’s excellent translation of The Odyssey. Wilson herself will be joined in reading the entire book by folks like actress Bebe Neuwirth, singer-songwriter Leslie Feist, writer Rebecca Nagle (who I’ve been listening to on the fascinating and infuriating This Land podcast), Oklahoma City mayor David Holt, and several other folks.

The exact schedule is TBD, but the event will be streamed on YouTube and Facebook. Check back here for details closer to the date. (thx, sarah)

Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 10, 2020

Elena Ferrante's The Lying Life of Adults

The English translation of Elena Ferrante’s latest novel, The Lying Life of Adults, is due out at the beginning of September and is available for preorder (Kindle). Here’s the synopsis:

Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Is she turning into her Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise? Surely there is a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is.

Giovanna is searching for her reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves from one to the other in search of the truth, but neither city seems to offer answers or escape.

The Guardian and the Washington Post have reviews of the Italian version of the book. And Netflix has already announced that they’re producing a TV series based on the novel; here’s a short teaser:

The series is being made by the same folks responsible for HBO’s My Brilliant Friend series (based on Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels), which has been outstanding in its two seasons so far.

Shel Silverstein’s “The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2020

The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries

Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is a famously divisive children’s book because the story can be interpreted as an abusive relationship between a greedy boy and a tree he takes advantage of. Playing off of that interpretation, Topher Payne rewrote the ending of the book so that the tree is still generous, but only up to a point: The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries.

“And while we’re on the subject,” the tree said, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt. “I recognize friendships evolve over time, and we may not see each other as often because you don’t have time for your tree friends. But we used to be real tight. Now it feels like I only see you when you need something. How do you think that makes me feel?”

The Boy took a long breath. He felt a sour rumble in his stomach. Because he realized he hadn’t considered his friend’s feelings. “I bet it makes you feel bad,” said the Boy.

(via waxy)

A Long Walk Along Japan’s Historic Nakasendo Highway to Eat Pizza Toast

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2020

Kissa By Kissa

Kissa By Kissa

Last year, Craig Mod walked 620 miles from Tokyo to Kyoto along the Nakasendō historic highway and along the way he stopped at kissaten (or kissa), old-school Japanese cafes known for their pizza toast. Mod wrote about his quest late last year for Eater and has now turned a fuller account of the journey into a gorgeous book called Kissa By Kissa.

Those kissaten — or kissa — served up toast. I ate that toast. So. Much. Toast. Much of it pizza toast. If you buy this book, you’ll learn more than you ever dared to know about this variety of toast available all across Japan. It’s a classic post-war food staple. Kissa by kissa, and slice by thick slice of beautiful, white toast, I took a heckuva affecting and long walk. This book is my sharing with you, of that walk, the people I met along the way, and the food I ate.

Even more interesting is that to sell the book, Mod built a Kickstarter clone on top of Shopify called Craigstarter. And he’s released the code for it on Github.

Kickstarter is an excellent way to run a crowdfunding campaign. But if you already have a community built up, and have communication channels in place (via a newsletter, for example), and already run an online shop, then Kickstarter can be unnecessarily cumbersome. Kickstarter’s 10% fee is also quite hefty. By leaning on Shopify’s flexible Liquid templating system and reasonable CC processing fees, an independent publisher running a campaign can save some ~$7,000 for every $100,000 of sales by using Craigstarter instead of Kickstarter. That’s materially meaningful, especially in the world of books.

You can order Kissa By Kissa right here.

Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: “An Instant American Classic”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 03, 2020

Well, this is a hell of a book review by NY Times critic Dwight Garner about Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste (which I am starting the second it comes out tomorrow).

A critic shouldn’t often deal in superlatives. He or she is here to explicate, to expand context and to make fine distinctions. But sometimes a reviewer will shout as if into a mountaintop megaphone. I recently came upon William Kennedy’s review of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which he called “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” Kennedy wasn’t far off.

I had these thoughts while reading Isabel Wilkerson’s new book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” It’s an extraordinary document, one that strikes me as an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far. It made the back of my neck prickle from its first pages, and that feeling never went away.

I told more than one person, as I moved through my days this past week, that I was reading one of the most powerful nonfiction books I’d ever encountered.

I mean, how can you not want to read a book that stirs a seasoned critic like that, particularly when the author also wrote the fantastic The Warmth of Other Suns? You can buy Caste at Bookshop, get the Kindle version, or read a lengthy piece adapted from the book.

The Claudia Kishi Club

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2020

The Claudia Kishi Club is a short documentary by Sue Ding about the impact of the Claudia Kishi character from The Baby-Sitters Club book series on a group of Asian-American creatives. They read the books when they were kids and in the film, they reflect on the importance of Claudia in shaping their perceptions of themselves in an era where Asian-American characters were rare in books, movies, and TV.

The six people interviewed in the film are novelist Sarah Kuhn, YA author CB Lee, Naia Cucukov (executive producer of the Netflix series The Babysitter’s Club), comic book artist & author Yumi Sakugawa, blogger Phil Yu, and Gale Galligan (author of The Baby-Sitter’s Club graphic novels, which my daughter loves).

The Claudia Kishi Club is now streaming on Netflix, the trailer is embedded above, and here’s a clip.

Radioactive, a Biopic of Marie Curie

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2020

From director Marjane Satrapi, who made the acclaimed animated film Persepolis, comes Radioactive, a film about Marie Curie, who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and the only person to ever win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific disciplines. Curie is played by Rosamund Pike and the film is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Lauren Redniss, a finalist for the National Book Award.

Radioactive debuts on Amazon Prime on July 24.

A History of Policing in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

This video provides a quick overview of the history of policing in America through the lens of race, from the slave patrols in the South to the violent and discriminatory policing of Black migrants in the North in the midst the Great Migration. At its conclusion, historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, asks a very direct question:

And so the question that has to be asked in the wake of George Floyd — and I think this question is being asked and answered by more white people than I’ve seen in my lifetime is — do white people in America still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of Black and, in too many cases, brown, Indigenous, and Asian populations in this country?

This video is a snippet from an hour-long podcast episode of NPR’s Throughline called American Police (transcript here). (via @GeeDee215)

Doublespeak: Language Designed to Mislead While Pretending Otherwise

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2020

Linguist William Lutz, former editor of the Quarterly Review of Doublespeak, went on CSPAN in 1989 to promote his book, Doublespeak. The video above is a 7-minute distillation of his thoughts on what he calls “language designed to mislead while pretending not to”. (Watch Lutz’s full interview here.)

You can read the first chapter of Doublespeak; an excerpt:

Doublespeak is not the product of carelessness or sloppy thinking. Indeed, most doublespeak is the product of clear thinking and carefully designed and constructed to appear to communicate when in fact it doesn’t. It is language designed not to lead but mislead. It is language designed to distort reality and corrupt thought… In the world created by doublespeak, if it’s not a tax increase, but rather “revenue enhancement” or “tax base broadening”, how can you complain about higher taxes? If it’s not acid rain, but rather “poorly buffered precipitation”, how can you worry about all those dead trees?

See also On Bullshit and Donald Trump. (via dunstan)

America’s 400-Year-Old “Shape-Shifting, Unspoken, Race-Based” Caste System

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2020

In this long and interesting piece for the NY Times, The Warmth of Other Suns author Isabel Wilkerson explains America’s Enduring Caste System.

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste, whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranks apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.

Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The lingering, millenniums-long caste system of India. The tragically accelerated, chilling and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations.

The article is an adapted excerpt from her forthcoming book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents:

Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people — including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others — she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

The Warmth of Other Suns is one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past decade, so I’m very much looking forward to her new one.

Overview Timelapse

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2020

Overview Timelapse

From the creators the Daily Overview website that showcases beautiful & educational satellite imagery of Earth, comes a new book about the Earth’s changing landscape. Overview Timelapse: How We Change the Earth is a book of satellite imagery that shows how landscapes change over time due to things like volcanic eruptions, climate change, population growth, and massive construction projects.

With human activity driving this transformation faster than ever, visible signs can now be seen across the planet. With more than 250 new, mesmerizing images such as sprawling cities and the patterns created by decades of deforestation, this book offers a fresh perspective of change on Earth from a larger-than-life scale.

Here’s a layout from the book that shows the construction of the Beijing Daxing International Airport over the course of several years:

Overview Timelapse

You can preorder Overview Timelapse from Bookshop.org and pick up their previous books as well: Overview and Overview, Young Explorer’s Edition.

Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2020

In a his book out today, Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care?, oncologist & bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel compares the outcomes of several countries’ health care systems.

The US spends more than any other nation, nearly $4 trillion, on healthcare. Yet, for all that expense, the US is not ranked #1 — not even close.

In Which Country Has the World’s Best Healthcare? Ezekiel Emanuel profiles 11 of the world’s healthcare systems in pursuit of the best or at least where excellence can be found. Using a unique comparative structure, the book allows healthcare professionals, patients, and policymakers alike to know which systems perform well, and why, and which face endemic problems. From Taiwan to Germany, Australia to Switzerland, the most inventive healthcare providers tackle a global set of challenges — in pursuit of the best healthcare in the world.

In his ranking of 11 countries profiled, China and the United States are, respectively, dead last and second-to-last in providing health care for their citizens. In the case of the United States at least, that failure is on display with our response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2020

For Slate’s 2015 podcast series The History of American Slavery, Andrew Kahn created an interactive visualization of the 20,000+ voyages that made up the Atlantic slave trade that lasted 315 years. A video of the interactive map is embedded above.

As we discussed in Episode 2 of Slate’s History of American Slavery Academy, relative to the entire slave trade, North America was a bit player. From the trade’s beginning in the 16th century to its conclusion in the 19th, slave merchants brought the vast majority of enslaved Africans to two places: the Caribbean and Brazil. Of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747 — less than 4 percent of the total — came to North America. This was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.

Roughly 400,000 enslaved Africans were brought to the United States before the practice was banned in 1808. The ban was mostly (but not entirely) enforced and yet in 1860, the population of enslaved persons was almost 4 million in the South. That’s because the 1808 ban, according to Ned & Constance Sublette’s book The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry, was a form of trade protectionism that protected the forced breeding of enslaved peoples by American slaveowners. From a review of the book:

In fact, most American slaves were not kidnapped on another continent. Though over 12.7 million Africans were forced onto ships to the Western hemisphere, estimates only have 400,000-500,000 landing in present-day America. How then to account for the four million black slaves who were tilling fields in 1860? “The South,” the Sublettes write, “did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people.” Slavers called slave-breeding “natural increase,” but there was nothing natural about producing slaves; it took scientific management. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children was increasing Virginia’s capital stock by four percent annually.

Here is how the American slave-breeding industry worked, according to the Sublettes: Some states (most importantly Virginia) produced slaves as their main domestic crop. The price of slaves was anchored by industry in other states that consumed slaves in the production of rice and sugar, and constant territorial expansion. As long as the slave power continued to grow, breeders could literally bank on future demand and increasing prices. That made slaves not just a commodity, but the closest thing to money that white breeders had. It’s hard to quantify just how valuable people were as commodities, but the Sublettes try to convey it: By a conservative estimate, in 1860 the total value of American slaves was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally ($228.3 million, “most of it in the North,” the authors add), total currency ($435.4 million), and even the value of the South’s total farmland ($1.92 billion). Slaves were, to slavers, worth more than everything else they could imagine combined.

You can read more about the economics of slavery in this post from 2016, including how American banks sold bonds that used enslaved persons as collateral to international investors. (via open culture)

Meet the Real Rosa Parks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

From motion graphics studio Eido, director Joash Berkeley, and educator Riché Richardson, an animated short film about civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

Many people only know of Parks through sanitized stories in school textbooks, documentaries, and the top results on Google: that she was a tired old seamstress who quietly (and almost accidentally) ignited the Montgomery bus boycott by not wanting to move from her seat. But Parks was a political radical who had a long history of fighting for civil rights. Here is Parks’ great niece Urana McCauley on how involved and passionate she was:

One of the things that people don’t understand about my aunt is that she was an activist her whole life and she started questioning things at a young age. I think part of it was her upbringing with her grandfather, Sylvester Edwards. He would sit up at night with a shotgun — in case the KKK might come by and try to kill them — and talk to her about black resistance and the key figures in it: Crispus Attucks, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey. That laid the foundation for my aunt to feel like, “This isn’t right. I should be doing something and becoming an activist.” Her whole life became dedicated to change.

In 2013, political science professor Jeanne Theoharis published a biography called The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks about Parks’ decades of activism.

Presenting a powerful corrective to the popular iconography of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who with a single act birthed the modern civil rights movement, scholar Jeanne Theoharis excavates Parks’s political philosophy and six decades of activism. Theoharis masterfully details the political depth of a national heroine who dedicated her life to fighting American inequality and, in the process, resurrects a civil rights movement radical who has been hidden in plain sight far too long.

Theoharis wrote an article a couple of years later after the Library of Congress opened their Rosa Parks Collection to the public.

Her “life history of being rebellious,” as she put it, comes through decisively in the recently opened Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress. It features previously unseen personal writings, letters, speech notes, financial and medical records, political documents, and decades of photographs.

There, we see a lifelong activist who had been challenging white supremacy for decades before she became the famous catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott. We see a woman who, from her youth, didn’t hesitate to indict the system of oppression around her. As she once wrote, “I talked and talked of everything I know about the white man’s inhuman treatment of the negro.”

Parks was a seasoned freedom fighter who had grown up in a family that supported Marcus Garvey and who married an activist for the Scottsboro boys. She joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, becoming branch secretary. She spent the next decade pushing for voter registration, seeking justice for black victims of white brutality and sexual violence, supporting wrongfully accused black men, and pressing for desegregation of schools and public spaces. Committed to both the power of organized nonviolent direct action and the moral right of self defense, she called Malcolm X her personal hero.

(video via print)

A Short History of Housing Segregation in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

In this video for NPR, Gene Demby summarizes the history of housing segregation in America and how it’s a factor for current differences in health (poorer), wealth (much less), education (underfunded), and policing (much more aggressive) for Black communities in US cities.

If you look at the way housing segregation works in America, you can see how things ended up this way. Once you see it, you won’t be able to unsee it.

When you’re talking about housing policy in America, Kimberly Jones’ Monopoly analogy starts to sound a lot less metaphorical and more literal: if Black people cannot buy houses or can only buy houses on certain streets, they will not be able to build wealth like others can.

For more on housing segregation, check out historian Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. From a 2017 interview with Rothstein:

The federal government pursued two important policies in the mid-20th century that segregated metropolitan areas. One was the first civilian public housing program which frequently demolished integrated neighborhoods in order to create segregated public housing.

The second program that the federal government pursued was to subsidize the development of suburbs on a condition that they be only sold to white families and that the homes in those suburbs had deeds that prohibited resale to African-Americans. These two policies worked together to segregate metropolitan areas in ways that they otherwise would never have been segregated.

Rothstein talked about the book with Ta-Nehisi Coates during a conversation at Politics and Prose Bookstore.

Update: This is excellent: you can explore the maps created by the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation at Mapping Inequality by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

These grades were a tool for redlining: making it difficult or impossible for people in certain areas to access mortgage financing and thus become homeowners. Redlining directed both public and private capital to native-born white families and away from African American and immigrant families. As homeownership was arguably the most significant means of intergenerational wealth building in the United States in the twentieth century, these redlining practices from eight decades ago had long-term effects in creating wealth inequalities that we still see today.

(via @masonadams)

This Is What I Know About Art by Kimberly Drew

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

This Is What I Know about Art by Kimberly Drew

Author, curator, and activist Kimberly Drew has published This Is What I Know About Art, a book aimed at young adults about her experience studying art history in school and then working in the art world. In a piece for Teen Vogue, Drew outlined why she wrote the book.

For far too long, people across the globe have suffered due to the direct effects of colonialism, patriarchy, state violence, and so much more, but it is our art and creativity that have helped us to communicate our collective rage. Art has helped us build bridges intergenerational so that we do not feel alone — and so we can make sure that we do not forget our own history.

And from the introduction to the book:

I am not your typical art historian. I am not your typical activist. I am still learning what art and protest mean to me. And so, this book is more about my journey through art toward activism. This book is about discovery, confusion, and progress.

I love how she ties “discovery, confusion, and progress” together here — a powerfully messy combination for growth.

Bill Gates’ Pandemic Summer Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2020

As he does every year, Bill Gates has shared his reading list for this summer. This time around, he’s included more than his usual five picks and many of the recommendations have a connection to the ongoing pandemic.

Of The Choice by Edith Eva Eger, he says:

This book is partly a memoir and partly a guide to processing trauma. Eger was only sixteen years old when she and her family got sent to Auschwitz. After surviving unbelievable horrors, she moved to the United States and became a therapist. Her unique background gives her amazing insight, and I think many people will find comfort right now from her suggestions on how to handle difficult situations.

He also recommends The Great Influenza by John Barry, Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe.

For years, I was a skeptic about meditation. Now I do it as often as I can — three times a week, if time allows. Andy’s book and the app he created, Headspace, are what made me a convert. Andy, a former Buddhist monk, offers lots of helpful metaphors to explain potentially tricky concepts in meditation. At a time when we all could use a few minutes to de-stress and re-focus each day, this is a great place to start.

Gates also recommended some TV shows and movies — Netflix’s Pandemic but also Ozark. He read Cloud Atlas recently — I wonder if he’s seen the movie by the Wachowskis (which is underrated IMO)?

Dr. Seuss Reimagined for the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Dr Seuss Covid

Designer Jim Malloy has reimagined the books of Dr. Seuss for the coronavirus age by altering the titles & cover illustrations and changing the author to “Dr. Fauci”. You can check out the results on Instagram and in this Instagram Story. (via print)

The Best Book Design of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The AIGA has announced the winners of its annual 50 Books / 50 Covers competition for books published in 2019. The competition recognizes excellence in both book design and book cover design — some of the winners placed in both categories. You’ll notice there are not a lot of books here that you’d find on the front table of the bookstore — the winners tend to be from smaller publishers and/or academic in nature and/or about art or design. For lists containing more mainstream books, check out the lists from the NY Times, Buzzfeed, and Lithub.

The books pictured above (from top to bottom) are Rusty Brown by Chris Ware, When Brooklyn Was Queer by Hugh Ryan, Love Drones by Noam Dorr, Signal. Image. Architecture. by John May, and False Bingo by Jac Jemc.

Cities Are Meant to Stop Traffic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2020

I recently came across this quote from Kirkpatrick Sale’s 1980 book Human Scale and it succinctly relates a fundamental truth about the purpose of cities.

Cities are meant to stop traffic. That is their point. That is why they are there. That is why traders put outposts there, merchants put shops there, hoteliers erected inns there. That is why factories locate there, why warehouses, assembly plants and distribution centers are established there. That is why people settle and cultural institutions grow there. No one wants to operate in a place that people are just passing through; everyone wants to settle where people will stop, and rest, and look around, and talk, and buy, and share.

Cities, in short, should be an end, not a means. Rationally one wants to have traffic stop there, not go through, one wants movement within it to be slow, not fast.

Sale goes on to list four ways in which cities should think about slowing traffic down:

  1. Cities should not try to move people to facilities but provide facilities where the people are.
  2. Cities should be small enough so that inter-community trips, when necessary, could be managed either on foot, by bike, or with some simple subway or trolley system.
  3. Cities should attempt to slow down the flow of traffic, particularly with plenty of squares and plazas and parks, places where wheeled vehicles are forced to halt, endpoints that invite stopping and resting.
  4. Cities should try to bring home and workplace back together.

You can read the entire excerpt on Google Books. (via @grescoe)

Update: Some alert readers let me know that Kirkpatrick Sale is a left-wing secessionist, which has brought him and his various organizations into contact & cooperation with racist hate groups and white supremacist organizations. I’m not going to link to it, but he’s written some stuff recently about how the Confederacy and slavery weren’t so bad (with tired arguments like white slave owners treating their slaves well) for an organization dedicated to exploring the “Southern tradition”. The white Southern tradition, mind you — there are no black voices or faces represented on their site as far as I can tell. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader as to whether that changes how you feel about his views on how to fix cities.1 (thx, edward & @paulbeard)

  1. For me, it does. It’s fine to advocate for more bike transportation & workplaces close to home, but cities can accomplish that in a way that takes into account lower income communities (which in American cities are often made up of PoC and immigrants) or not. Everyone who lives in the West Village working close to their house and being able to walk to the store is fine — and perhaps if you’re Sale, you’d say “mission accomplished” — but if the restaurant busboys, teachers, shop clerks, dry cleaners, store owners, plumbers, firefighters, and all the other people that make that neighborhood actually function can’t afford to live anywhere close to the neighborhood and are still spending hours every day commuting on the subway to & from Queens, the Bronx, or Brooklyn, I would argue you really haven’t solved, or even begun to solve, the problem of moving home and workplace closer together.

The Real Lord of the Flies

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2020

For his new book, Humankind: A Hopeful History, Rutger Bregman uncovered the real-life story of 6 schoolboys who were stranded on a Pacific island for 15 months in 1965-66. What he learned was not the familiar tale of savagery & death told in William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. Instead, the boys cooperated and thrived.

But “by the time we arrived,” Captain Warner wrote in his memoirs, “the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination.” While the boys in Lord of the Flies come to blows over the fire, those in this real-life version tended their flame so it never went out, for more than a year.

On Twitter, Bregman shared how he came to learn about this story:

As a proper investigative journalist, I started Googling. Search terms: ‘Kids shipwrecked’. ‘Real-life Lord of the Flies’ etc. After a while, I came across a blog that told this story.

Wow, I thought. If this really happened, then why isn’t it a super famous story? The article did not provide sources. After a couple of hours, I discovered that it came from a book by the anarchist Colin Ward from 1988. He cited an Italian politician Susanna Agnelli.

From a second-hand bookshop in the UK, I ordered her 1986 book, got it two weeks later, and found the story on page 94. But again: same details, same wording, no source. At that point I started to think that it probably didn’t happen.

Here’s a photo of the six boys with Peter Warner, the sea captain who rescued them:

Real Life Lord Of The Flies

After the rescue, Warner hired the boys as crew members and they worked with him for years. you can read more about Bregman and his new book in this related article.

Update: You may have noticed that Bregman’s piece is told from the perspective of the discoverer of a good story and the sea captain who rescued the boys, and there’s actually relatively little from the boys themselves. Tongan writer Meleika Gesa-Fatafehi wrote a pair of threads on Twitter about how problematic it is that a story about six indigenous schoolboys became one about two white men. First of all, the story was not unknown or forgotten:

I’ve been told many stories about (both) my people getting lost by sea and being stuck on either a boat or Island. But I remember this one significantly because the boys were stuck on ‘Ata. I remember it being called the rock Island.

The local culture that the boys grew up in is essential to the story, particularly w/r/t the lesson Bregman wants to assign to it:

Tongans are taught to share from the beginning. You’re also taught to treat everyone like family. You’re taught to survive together not “Everyman to himself”. It’s hard to exist without community. So when one person is ill or hurt, it’s an automatic reaction to help

To heal and to use knowledge passed down to you. This is seen in every aspect of how the boys survived. They created a community, a small family and worked together.

The white boys of LotF cannot relate because of the very fact they are rich white school boys who aren’t from an Island nation.

LotF isn’t what would happen amongst Tongans because of the value system we have. This is true for every Island nation.

Filmmaker Taika Waititi had this to say about a possible film adaptation:

Personally, I think you should prioritize Polynesian (Tongan if possible!) filmmakers as to avoid cultural appropriation, misrepresentation, and to keep the Pasifika voice authentic.

(via @tinakittelty)

Andy Serkis Is Reading The Hobbit Aloud for 12 Straight Hours

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2020

Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, is reading The Hobbit (the entire book!) aloud for 12 straight hours today to raise money for Covid-19 relief.

So many of us are struggling in isolation during the lockdown. While times are tough, I want to take you on one of the greatest fantasy adventures ever written, a 12 hour armchair marathon across Middle Earth whilst raising money for two amazing charities which are doing extraordinary work right now to help those most in need in the UK: Best Beginnings and NHS Charities Together.

He’s been going since 5am EST, so you can join in progress or rewind your way back to the beginning. The campaign has already reached its initial goal of £100,000 — you can contribute here. A “special surprise” was promised if the goal was met…I wonder if Ian McKellen or Martin Freeman will be stopping by for a chapter or two?

Becoming, a Film About Michelle Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

Based on her memoir of the same name and produced by the production company she created with her husband, Becoming is a film about Michelle Obama that premiered on Netflix today.

Becoming is an intimate look into the life of former First Lady Michelle Obama during a moment of profound change, not only for her personally but for the country she and her husband served over eight impactful years in the White House. The film offers a rare and up-close look at her life, taking viewers behind the scenes as she embarks on a 34-city tour that highlights the power of community to bridge our divides and the spirit of connection that comes when we openly and honestly share our stories.

The trailer and a clip from the film are embedded above. The clip features Obama talking with a group of young black women on her book tour and one of them asks about getting her life “back on track” after her husband’s presidency. Obama’s answer is remarkably timely:

What I’ve learned is that…get back on what track? It’s a whole new track. It’s not going back — it’s just all different and it’s different forever. So it’s not getting back on track, it’s creating my next track.

I think many Americans and people across the world are struggling with accepting that idea in the midst of the pandemic.

Daniel Radcliffe Reads the First Chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2020

As part of the Wizarding World’s Harry Potter at Home initiative, they’re having an all-star cast read the first book in the series aloud on video. The first chapter was just released and it’s read by none other than Daniel Radcliffe himself. You can also listen on Spotify:

A new chapter with a different reader will be released each week — readers of future chapters include Stephen Fry, Dakota Fanning, and Eddie Redmayne.

Update: The next few chapters have been released: Noma Dumezweni’s chapter 2, Eddie Redmayne reads chapter 3, and Stephen Fry does chapter 4. The kids and I have been listening to this on Spotify in the car and we’re loving it. I liked Redmayne’s narration the best so far and Fry does an uncanny impression of Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid voice.

My Recent Media Diet, The Pandemic Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2020

Well, it has been awhile. I have not done one of these since late December. First I was away for a few weeks and then, well, you know. I’m not even sure if anyone wants to read this sort of thing right now — I barely wanted to write it — but I know a lot of people are stuck at home, looking for stuff to watch, read, and listen to. Plus, keeping the media diet going feels normal, at least a little.

If you’re strapped for time/attention, my top recs are Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Devs, Exhalation, Little Women, Unbelievable, Future Nostalgia, The Overstory, and You’re Wrong About.

Devs. Fantastic. I loved every minute of this gem. (A)

Unbelievable. Based on a true story. Excellent performances by Toni Collette and (especially) Merritt Wever. (A)

The Report. Also based on a true story. The Bush presidency still does not get the credit in terms of the harm it did, and continues to do, to America. (B+)

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Killer collection of tech/science stories. (A)

Slow Burn (season 3). Not just about Biggie/Tupac, but about 90s hip-hop & the cultural reaction to it. (B+)

AirPods Pro. Wearing these feels a little like the future. (A)

Aeronauts. Perfectly fine. (B)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Straight-up masterpiece. (A)

Don’t F**k with Cats. How on Earth did I not hear anything about this case when it originally happened and why is it not more widely known? A media-obsessed wanna-be serial killer caught by online sleuths? It seems like fiction. (B+)

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. This maybe would have been better at half the length. (B+)

1917. Technically stunning but I never truly got involved in the story because I was trying to see where the cuts were. (B+)

Icarus. Almost unbelievable where the story goes in this. (A-)

Little Women. My choice for the best 2019 movie. (A)

My Brilliant Friend (season 2). The second part of the first season set a high bar to clear, but I’m loving this season so far. (A)

Jojo Rabbit. Like Inglourious Basterds directed by Wes Anderson. (A-)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Fittingly finished this on the plane to Vietnam. (B+)

Anthropocene. Typically excellent look at the impact of humans on the Earth by Edward Burtynsky. (A-)

Frances Ha. Baby Adam Driver! (B+)

Catch Me If You Can. Spielberg (and DiCaprio) at their most entertaining. (A-)

Edge of Tomorrow. Love this movie. An underrated gem. (A)

The Overstory by Richard Powers. A wonderful novel about trees and the natural world. (A)

Titanic. A masterclass of blockbuster filmmaking and storytelling. (A)

Good Place (season 4). Loved the ending to this. (A-)

Outbreak. Contagion. Deep Impact. 2012. The Core. I Am Legend. I have been watching all of the disaster movies. They are terrible and I love them. (A/C-)

The Aftermath. The ending of this felt random, a gotcha to the audience rather than the natural end to the story. (B)

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. I had medium hopes for this, but the Seth Rogan episode made me laugh harder than I have in months. (B+)

Watchmen. The first three episodes gave me this-is-gonna-end-like-Lost vibes and then they announced there wasn’t going to be second season, so I stopped watching. (B-)

The Farewell. Wonderful. (A-)

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. Started slow but finished strong. Keep your eyes peeled for all of the sci-fi references. (B+)

Birds of Prey. This was mindless. And not in a good way. (D)

McMillion$. My main takeaway was being aghast at how much time, energy, and money the FBI put into this case, which one of the lead investigators only pursued because it was fun. (B)

Star Trek: Picard. I would have voted against bringing this beloved character back (for fear they’d ruin it) but I enjoyed almost every second of this. (B+)

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. Another great book from Larson. The Battle of Britain is surprisingly relevant to these pandemic times. (A-)

Onward. Not my favorite Pixar, but solid as always. (B)

Future Nostalgia. Love this album, not a single weak song. (A)

The Mandalorian. It took me too long to realize that this was a western. I don’t care that much for westerns. (B)

Star Wars Episodes I II III. I needed some true garbage to watch about two weeks into my self-quarantine. These movies are mostly terrible. (C-)

You’re Wrong About. I’ve mentioned this podcast before, but You’re Wrong About has become essential listening for me. The OJ and DC Sniper series are both great, and their episode Why Didn’t Anyone Go to Prison for the Financial Crisis was excellent and surprisingly didn’t really mention the actual crisis at all. (A)

Iron Man. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers. The kids and I are rewatching all the MCU movies in release order. Some are better than others. (B)

Tiger King. I watched the first episode and…is this anything more than just gawping at yokels? Does this documentary have anything important to say about society or is it just reality TV? (C)

LBJ and the Great Society. A fascinating look at a brief moment in time when our government worked and how that happened. (A-)

The Case of the Missing Hit. You’ve likely heard this instant-classic episode of Reply All by now, but if you haven’t, it’s worth the hype. (A-)

Tempest in a Teacup. Outside/In talks to Charles Mann about a passage in 1491 about passenger pigeons, which suggested that their famous abundance was a relatively recent occurence caused by the decimation of indigenous populations in the Americas by Europeans and their diseases. (B+)

The Living Room. The episode of Love + Radio that inspired the Oscar-winning The Neighbor’s Window. (A-)

Simulcast. Tycho’s instrumental companion album to Weather. (B+)

Minority Report. This was cheesier than I remembered it. Hasn’t aged well in some ways. (B)

Pelican Brief. So 90s. But I’d forgotten the star power of Denzel and Julia Roberts, even in a mediocre movie. (B)

Murder on the Orient Express. Rewatch. Branagh sure does chew the scenery, but it is fun to watch. (B+)

Gemini Man. Action. Sci fi. Mostly forgettable. (B-)

Yesterday. Cute flick. (B)

Monsters University. This was the only Pixar movie I had never seen. And now I have. (B)

Dark Phoenix. Slightly more entertaining than I was expecting. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Where’s Waldo? in the Social Distancing Age

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2020

Where's Waldo Pandemic

Finding Waldo is a lot easier when no one can go outside. On his Instagram, art director Pedro Mezzini reimagined Where’s Waldo for the age of social distancing. He’s even wearing a mask! See also Clay Bennett’s version.

Children’s Story Time with Michelle Obama and PBS Kids

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2020

For the next several Mondays, Michelle Obama will read a favorite children’s book in partnership with PBS Kids. The first reading (of The Gruffalo) is already in the can and archived on YouTube:

(via barry)

The Origin of 8-Bit Arcade Fonts

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2020

Aided by Toshi Omagari, who wrote Arcade Game Typography, Vox’s Estelle Caswell explores the origins and history of 8-bit arcade fonts. From the description of the book:

Video game designers of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s faced color and resolution limitations that stimulated incredible creativity. With each letter having to exist in a small pixel grid, artists began to use clever techniques to create elegant character sets within a tiny canvas.

As the creator of a tiny pixelated typeface, I find this stuff infinitely fascinating.

Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks Rapped Over Dr. Dre’s Beats

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2020

As someone who a) thinks Dr. Dre was an amazing producer, and b) read Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks to his children roughly 1 million times (enough to be able to, eventually, get through the entire book at a comically high rate of speed w/o any tongue twisting slip-ups), I thought Wes Tank’s video of himself rapping Fox in Socks over Dre’s beats was really fun and surprisingly well done.

Tank has also done Green Eggs and Ham (over the beats from Forgot About Dre) and The Lorax. (thx, andrew)

Ken Burns Presents The Gene: An Intimate History

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2020

From Ken Burns and Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History, a series about the history of genetics based on Mukherjee’s book of the same name. Here’s a trailer:

The series tells the story of the rapid evolution of genetic science from Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking experiment in the 19th century to CRISPR, and the hope that newfound powers to alter DNA with pinpoint precision will transform the treatment of some of the world’s most complex and challenging diseases. The series also tackles the daunting ethical challenges that these technologies pose for humankind.

This looks great, especially if this clip about Nancy Wexler’s crusade to find a cure for Huntington’s disease is representative of the whole:

In 1968, Nancy Wexler’s mother was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease - Huntington’s. Facing a 50-50 chance of contracting Huntington’s herself, Wexler — a non-scientist — began an odyssey to find the gene that causes the disease. For three decades, Wexler searched for treatments but chose not to get tested. As time passed, she noticed changes in the way she moved. Finally, in early 2020, Wexler decided to face her fears.

Part 1 of the series is now streaming on PBS with part 2 set to premiere next week.