homeaboutarchivepodcastnewslettermembership!
aboutarchivepodcastmembership!
aboutarchivemembers!

kottke.org posts about books

Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2021

Matt Kish Moby Dick

Matt Kish Moby Dick

Matt Kish Moby Dick

Matt Kish Moby Dick

Over a period of a year and a half, Matt Kish created one illustration for each of the 552 pages in the Signet Classic paperback edition of Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick. He then turned those illustrations into a book, Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page.

In retrospect, Kish says he feels as foolhardy as Ishmael, the novel’s narrator, and as obsessed as Captain Ahab in his quest for the great white whale. “I see now that the project was an attempt to fully understand this magnificent novel, to walk through every sun-drenched word, to lift up all the hatches and open all the barrels, to smell, taste, hear, and see every seabird, every shark, every sailor, every harpooner, and every whale,” he says. “It was a hard thing, a very painful thing, but the novel now lives inside me in a away it never could have before.”

All of the drawings are still available on Kish’s old Blogspot blog (first entry here) but the best way to see them is to get the book.

A Seven-Volume Book Series of the Complete Works of Hilma af Klint

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2021

Hilma af Klint book

Hilma af Klint book

Abstract art pioneer Hilma af Klint created hundreds of artworks during her lifetime, and a new seven-volume book series is celebrating that work in a big way: Hilma AF Klint: The Complete Catalogue Raisonné: Volumes I-VII. The complete set is available for preorder and ships in November, but you can get the first three volumes right now. (via colossal)

My Recent Media Diet, the Still Isolated Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2021

Holy shit, do I miss going to the movies. Oh, and going everywhere else. Anyway, every few months for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since the beginning of the year. (Don’t sweat the letter grades — they’re so subjective that I don’t even agree with them sometimes.)

Mank. Wanted to hate this, for secret reasons. Didn’t. (B+)

The Royal Tenenbaums. I have seen this movie a half dozen times and it’s still so fresh every time. (A+)

The Painter and the Thief. Best movie I’ve seen in months. (A+)

In & Of Itself. Everyone was raving about this and so I watched it and…I don’t know. It’s a magic show. I can see why people find it interesting, but watching it the night after The Painter and the Thief, it paled in comparison. (B+)

Ava. Jessica Chastain is good in this movie that is otherwise pretty bleh. (C+)

I’m Your Woman. Loved the 70s vibe of this one — not only the in-film setting but it had the feel of a movie made in the 70s as well. (B+)

Idiocracy. Fascinating documentary of the Trump presidency. (A-)

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, Star Wars was the biggest movie in the world but without such a strong sequel, maybe we’re not still talking about these movies more than 40 years later. (A)

Blood Simple. First Coen brothers movie and Frances McDormand’s debut. (A-)

L.L. Bean fleece-lined hoodie. The most comfortable piece of clothing I’ve ever owned. (A+)

Wonder Woman 1984. This wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone said it was, but they should have worked a little harder on making an entertaining movie and less on hitting the audience over the head with a moral lesson. (B+)

Song Exploder (season two). The Dua Lipa and Trent Reznor episodes were the standouts here. (B+)

Ammonite. Great individual performances by Ronan and Winslet. (B+)

The Mandalorian (season two). Enjoyed this way more than season one. The final scene in the last episode… (A-)

MacBook Air M1. A couple of years ago, I bought an iPad Pro intending to use it for work on the go. For folks whose work is mostly email and web browsing, the device seems to work fine but after a solid year of trying to make it work for me, I gave up. Last month, I bought a MacBook Air M1 to replace my 6-year-old iMac, my 9-year-old Air, and the iPad. It’s a remarkable machine — lightning fast with a long-lasting battery. I’ll be much happier traveling with this, whenever it is that we get to travel again. (A)

The Crown (season four). The show has never reached the giddy heights of the first two seasons, but Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher was a fantastic addition to the show. As someone on Twitter said, Anderson played Thatcher perfectly: as a sociopath. (A-)

Sunshine. Rewatch. Afterwards, as one does, I looked the film up on Wikipedia and of course Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Devs) had written it. (A-)

Florida by Lauren Groff. Excellent and eclectic collection of short stories. (B+)

Phantom Thread. Undoubtably a masterpiece but also something that I personally find it hard to get fully into. (B+)

Emma.. Super-fun period piece starring Anya Taylor-Joy. (A-)

In Our Time, Eclipses. I love any opportunity to hear about eclipses. (A)

Hang Up and Listen: The Last Last Dance. This picks up where The Last Dance left off with the story of Michael Jordan’s second (and much less successful) comeback with the Washington Wizards. (B+)

Soul. A sequel of sorts to Inside Out. The underworld score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross is fantastic. (A)

Ready Player One. Almost in spite of myself, I like this movie. (B+)

The Hobbit film series. Not as good as the Lord of the Rings movies, but not as bad as commonly thought. (B)

Locked Down. This took a while to get going, but Hathaway and Ejiofor are both really good in this. I’ll tell you though, I really had to be in a certain mood to watch a movie about the first weeks of pandemic lockdown. It will be really interesting to see how much appetite people will have for pandemic-themed movies, TV, books, art, etc. (B+)

Young Frankenstein. Madeline Kahn is only in this movie for like 5 minutes but she so dominates the screen that it feels like much longer. (A-)

Batman Begins. I don’t know why Christopher Nolan wanted to direct a series of superhero movies, but I’m glad he did. (A-)

This American Life, The Empty Chair. There are so many more podcasts now than there were 10 years ago, but This American Life is still consistently among the best and they don’t get enough credit for that. (A-)

Criminal, The Editor. I will listen to anything about people who love encyclopedias. (B+)

The Midnight Sky. I feel like I’ve seen this movie — or a movie very much like it — several times before. (B)

Ocean’s 8. Good fun. And Awkwafina! (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2021

Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer

In the past 120 years, global life expectancy has risen from 32 years to 72 years, an astounding increase. In a thread announcing his new book/TV project, Steven Johnson says:

The doubling of human life expectancy is the single most important development of our era. If a newspaper came out only once a century, that extra lifespan would be the banner headline: world wars, moon landings, the Internet would all be below the fold.

Johnson will explore this century-headlining development in an upcoming PBS series (co-hosted with David Olusoga) and a book, Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer.

A study in how meaningful change happens in society, Extra Life is an ode to the enduring power of common goals and public resources. The most fundamental progress we have experienced over the past few centuries has not come from big corporations or start-ups. It has come, instead, from activists struggling for reform; from university-based and publicly funded scientists sharing their findings open-source-style; and from nonprofit agencies spreading new innovations around the world.

Jamie xx’s Score from Tree of Codes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2021

Several years ago, I saw an NYC performance of Tree of Codes, a collaboration between choreographer Wayne McGregor, artist Olafur Eliasson, music producer Jamie xx, and dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s book of the same name. The whole performance was dazzling but I was especially taken with Jamie xx’s score.

In the weeks after the performance, I looked online for the score, hoping against hope that a recording was out there. No dice. As time went on, whenever one of Jamie xx’s songs popped up in a mix I was listening to, I’d do a bit of searching for the score, always without success. Until the other day, when I discovered this bootleg version on Soundcloud:

So happy to hear this again — for as long as this link lasts. I’m still crossing my fingers for an official release at some point…

The Look of the Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

Look Of The Book

A book? (I love books.) About book cover design? (I love book cover design.) By book cover designer Peter Mendelsund? (I love Peter Mendelsund. Platonically. More as a concept, really — we’ve never met.) And co-written by David Alworth? (I don’t know David Alworth but he seems like a solid chap.) The Look of the Book checks a lot of my boxes and might do so for you as well.

As the outward face of the text, the book cover makes an all-important first impression. The Look of the Book examines art at the edges of literature through notable covers and the stories behind them, galleries of the many different jackets of bestselling books, an overview of book cover trends throughout history, and insights from dozens of literary and design luminaries.

See also The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020.

21 Things That Kept Me Going In 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2020

overhead view of my home office

For the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of everything I read, watch, listen to, and experience in my media diet posts. As a media diet wrap-up, here’s the most compelling content & experiences from 2020, stuff that helped stimulate and sustain me in a year of isolation and pandemic.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This was the final movie I saw in a theater before the pandemic hit; I chose well. Not a week has gone by this year that I didn’t think about some aspect or another of this film.

You’re Wrong About. By far my favorite episodic podcast. The joy with which the hosts delight each other with insights and humorous asides is the engine that drives the show. Literally my only complaint: I wish they hadn’t changed the theme music.

The Queen’s Gambit. Seems like everyone watched this miniseries this fall and I loved it just as much as anyone.

The Rain Vortex at Singapore’s Changi Airport. An enchanting oasis in the middle of an airport indicative of Singapore’s incorporation of natural elements into urban spaces.

MASS MoCA. For my birthday, I treated myself with a road trip to this superb museum. The Sol LeWitt, James Turrell, and Jenny Holzer exhibitions alone were worth the trip. I sorely miss museums.

Ted Lasso. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood + Major League. Who knew you could make radical empathy funny? Everyone I’ve recommended this show to has loved it.

The Land That Never Has Been Yet from Scene on Radio. An essential series on American democracy. Like, do we even have one? It’s hard to choose, but the episode on how the libertarianism of the contemporary Republican Party was the result of a deliberate campaign by just a few people that increasingly came to dominate American politics is my favorite.

Carol. I remember liking this back when it came out, but my rewatch a couple of months ago was a revelation. A remarkable, sparkling film.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson has a gift for finding new ways for her readers to think about entrenched systems and behaviors.

Devs. This show got neglected a little in the end-of-year lists because of an early-in-the-pandemic release, but it was one of my top 2-3 shows this year.

The Great. I really enjoyed this Hulu show as I watched it and it’s grown in my esteem in the months since. It’s one of the first shows I recommend when friends ask what I’ve been watching lately. Huzzah!

Nintendo Switch. To distract themselves from the pandemic, did America spend more hours playing video games or watching TV? I did both. Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 35, Rocket League, Fortnite, Minecraft, Among Us, and all the old NES games were popular in our household this year.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. I found reading difficult for most of the year — I only finished three books in the past 10 months. But this one I couldn’t put down; finished it in two days.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Perfect little stories expertly told. Don’t miss the endnotes, where Chiang reveals where the ideas for each of his stories came from.

AirPods Pro. The best augmented reality device yet devised — the music feels like it’s actually in your head more seamlessly than ever before.

Little Women. Fantastic casting, performances, and direction. Waiting patiently for whatever Gerwig does next.

My Brilliant Friend (season 2) & Normal People. I didn’t think anyone could effectively adapt either of these authors, but somehow the shows nearly equalled the books.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. Everything from Larson is great and this book about the Battle of Britain and the triumph of leadership resonated throughout this pandemic year.

Future Nostalgia. I listened to this more than anything else in 2020. Also notable because IMO there are no skippable songs on this album.

Tomidaya shoyu ramen. This tiny ramen shop in the Little Tokyo section of Saigon is supposed to closely resemble Japan shops. One of the best bowls I’ve ever had.

The Mandalorian. I was lukewarm on season one but loved season two. Of all the recent Star Wars things, this show best channels the sometimes goofy/campy magic that made the original movie so compelling.

The image above is an overhead view of my home office, where all the kottke.org magic happens.

The Gap Between Having Good Taste and Doing Good Work

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 24, 2020

I’ve shared this observation from Ira Glass about the gap between having good taste and doing good creative work before, but I ran across it the other day and thought it was worth highlighting again. Here’s a partial transcript (courtesy of James Clear):

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.

And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

The full interview from which the video above is excerpted can be found here. Notably, Glass’s advice matches that of this parable from Art & Fear.

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2020

The 99% Invisible City

I somehow1 missed this a few months ago: Roman Mars’ venerable podcast 99% Invisible has resulted in a book that seems right up my alley: The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design.

In The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to Hidden World of Everyday Design, host Roman Mars and coauthor Kurt Kohlstedt zoom in on the various elements that make our cities work, exploring the origins and other fascinating stories behind everything from power grids and fire escapes to drinking fountains and street signs.

Urban historian Kenneth T. Jackson gave the book a good review in the NY Times.

A brief review cannot do justice to such a diverse and enlightening book. The authors have sections on oil derricks, cell towers, the Postal Service, water fountains, the transcontinental telegraph, cisterns, telephone poles, emergency exits, cycling lanes, archaeological sites in Britain, national roads, zero markers, the Oklahoma land rush, cemeteries, public lighting, pigeons, raccoons and half a hundred other eccentric topics.

I suspect that with Mars’ podcast pedigree, the audiobook version of this (Amazon, Libro.fm) is pretty good too.

  1. Lol, “somehow”. How anyone manages to keep up to speed on anything but their job and family (and maybe a couple of shows) during this pandemic is a wonder.

Today’s Work Music: Max Richter’s My Brilliant Friend Soundtracks

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2020

That someone was able to turn Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels into a compelling TV series is nothing short of miraculous. It could have gone so wrong.1 A key aspect of that success has to be Max Richter’s score for the show. I’ve been listening to the season one soundtrack for awhile now, but just stumbled across the season two soundtrack.

That’s today work music sorted, then.

P.S. For the first couple of months of the pandemic, I shared what I was listening to during my workday in this thread (continued here). Check it out if you need some wordless music to beaver away to.

  1. Same with Sally Rooney’s Normal People. The TV series could have been terrible but it very much was not.

The Credibility Is in the Details

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2020

The book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland contains a passage about whether artists should focus of quantity or quality in their work.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

It’s a great anecdote but with the absence of specific details (like the teacher’s name), it’s always struck me as apocryphal — a parable of unknown origin used to illustrate a counterpoint to conventional wisdom. Austin Kleon recently noticed another version of this story, featuring photographer Jerry Uelsmann, from James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It starts:

On the first day of class, Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, divided his film photography students into two groups.

Everyone on the left side of the classroom, he explained, would be in the “quantity” group.

Then it continues exactly as the ceramics story goes. Turns out, Orland says that he and Bayles changed the photography story into one about ceramics for their book, per Clear’s footnote:

“Yes, the ‘ceramics story’ in ‘Art & Fear’ is indeed true, allowing for some literary license in the retelling. Its real-world origin was as a gambit employed by photographer Jerry Uelsmann to motivate his Beginning Photography students at the University of Florida. As retold in ‘Art & Fear’ it faithfully captures the scene as Jerry told it to me — except I replaced photography with ceramics as the medium being explored. Admittedly, it would’ve been easier to retain photography as the art medium being discussed, but David Bayles (co-author) & I are both photographers ourselves, and at the time we were consciously trying to broaden the range of media being referenced in the text. The intriguing thing to me is that it hardly matters what art form was invoked — the moral of the story appears to hold equally true straight across the whole art spectrum (and even outside the arts, for that matter).”

Same anecdote, same takeaway, just different details right? I’m not so sure. The specific details lend credibility to the actual story and to the lesson we’re supposed to learn from it. There’s a meaningful difference in believability and authority between the two versions — one is a tale to shore up an argument but the other is an experiment, an actual thing that happened in the world with actual results. Even though I’ve known it in my bones for years because of my own work, I’m happy now to fully believe the connection between quantity and quality demonstrated in this story.

Update: Tangentially related from Emre Soyer and Robin Hogarth in Havard Business Review: Don’t Let a Good Story Sell You on a Bad Idea. (thx, rob)

The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Well, what an unprecedented year that was! *sigh* 2020 is not a great year for ledes, so let’s skip right to the chase: many books were published this year and some of them had great covers. Lit Hub has the best roundup, with a selection of 89 covers chosen by book cover designers. Mark Sinclair’s ten selections for Creative Review are excellent as well. Electric Lit and Book Riot shared their cover picks as well.

I chose a few of my favorites and shared them above. From top to bottom: Zo by Xander Miller designed by Janet Hansen, the UK cover for Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates designed by Jamie Keenan (the US cover for comparison), Anger by Barbara H. Rosenwein designed by Alex Kirby, Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener designed by Rodrigo Corral, and Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch designed by Rachel Willey. Looking at great work like this always gets my “maybe I should have been a book cover designer” juices flowing…

See also The Best Books of 2020.

Update: Oh good, the annual list from The Casual Optimist is here: Notable Book Covers of 2020. A cover that he highlighted that I particularly liked is from Michael Nylan’s translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu designed by Jaya Miceli.

Best Book Covers of 2020

The NY Times list of The Best Book Covers of 2020 is out as well.

Recommendation: The Audiobook for Barack Obama’s A Promised Land

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2020

I read both of the excerpts from A Promised Land, Barack Obama’s memoir of his time in the White House: I’m Not Yet Ready to Abandon the Possibility of America from The Atlantic and A President Looks Back on His Toughest Fight in the New Yorker. I have also been listening to the audiobook version, read by Obama himself, over the last few days and if you’re at all interested in this book, I would suggest going with the audiobook. Here’s an excerpt of Obama reading the preface (and several more of other parts of the book):

Not that there’s anything wrong with the written version, but the audiobook conveys more context and information. Much of the time, Obama writes like he talks, so listening to him read his own writing is like sitting across the dinner table from him as he tells you about how he became President. You can hear which parts of the book he really cares about and which parts are in there just to bridge gaps. He does impressions — of Desmond Tutu and his Kenyan relatives — and inflects words in other languages in the manner of Alex Trebek. He jokes around and gets serious. You can hear how frustrated he was, and continues to be, with Republican obstructionism. I’m only a few chapters in so far, but it will be interesting to hear his voice when he talks about the aspects of his Presidency that people believe didn’t live up to his lofty goals and visions. You really get the sense when listening to him that, unlike many politicians, he actually cares about helping people — or if you’re cynical, that he’s best-in-class at faking it; either way it’s fascinating to hear and make up your own mind.

You can listen to Obama read A Promised Land at Amazon or Libro.fm.

Why Humans Are Obsessed with Cats

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2020

In this short video, Abigail Tucker, author of 2015’s The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World, shares a brief overview of the role of cats in human lives, including their evolution from wild cats to tame lap friends.

But really, this is just a good excuse for me to feature once again Kevin Slavin’s marvelously entertaining talk about viral cat videos and the toxoplasma gondii parasite. See also Are Cats Domesticated?, How Humans Domesticated Cats (Twice), and The Self-Domestication of Humans. (via open culture)

The Best Books of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2020

The Best Books of 2020

I’m guessing that for most of you, reading books was either a comfort or a near impossibility during this unprecedentedly long and tough year. For me, I got some good reading in earlier in the year and then, as my focus shifted to writing about and researching the pandemic for this site and managing the logistics of safely navigating this new world, my energy for books waned. The last thing I wanted to do at the end of most days was more reading, especially anything challenging.

I also kinda didn’t know what to read, aside from the few obvious choices that were impossible to ignore. As I’m sure it is for many of you, a big part of my “getting the lay of the land” w/r/t books is seeing what my favorite bookstores were putting on their front tables — and that’s been difficult for the past several months. Looking through a bunch of end-of-2020 lists for what books everyone else recommended was especially valuable for me — there really were so so many good books published this year that are worth seeking out. So, here’s a selection of the best books of 2020 and links to the lists I used to find them. I hope you find this useful.

Let’s start with the NY Times. Their 10 Best Books of 2020 includes Deacon King Kong by James McBride while their larger list of 100 Notable Books of 2020 has both Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff and The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack on it. The Times’ critics have their own list for some reason; one of the books they featured is Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley.

Isabel Wilkerson’s masterful Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents and The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel (two books I actually read this year) deservedly made almost every list out there, including Time’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2020. Those two books are also, respectively, on Time’s lists of The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2020 and The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2020.

The Guardian breaks down their list of the Best Books of 2020 into several categories. The list of the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2020 includes The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson and Kacen Callender’s King of the Rising.

The year-end lists on Goodreads (Best Books of 2020, Most Popular Books Published In 2020) typically cast a wider net on what a broader audience is reading. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett made their lists this year.

Kirkus has a bunch of categories in their Best Books of 2020 as well, including the timely Best Fiction for Quarantine Reading in 2020 — I found What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (“Dryly funny and deeply tender; draining and worth it”) on there.

The NYPL’s Best Books of 2020 has separate lists for adults, teens, and kids. For adult poetry, Nate Marshall’s Finna made their list. And for teen historical fiction: We Are Not Free by Traci Chee.

Some recommended books for kids from various lists (NYPL, NY Times, NPR): Shinsuke Yoshitake’s There Must Be More Than That!, Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (my daughter is reading this one right now for her book club), and Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk.

YA novel Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo and Homie by Danez Smith both made Book Riot’s Best Books of 2020. Oh, and I’d missed that Zadie Smith published a book of pandemic-inspired essays called Intimations.

NPR’s Book Concierge is always a great resource for finding gems across a wide spectrum of interests. Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile and The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante both made their Seriously Great Writing list and their Cookbooks & Food list includes Ottolenghi Flavor by Yotam Ottolenghi & Ixta Belfrage and Eat A Peach by David Chang.

Speaking of cookbooks and food, among the top titles for 2020 were In Bibi’s Kitchen by Hawa Hassan & Julia Turshen and Falastin by Sami Tamimi & Tara Wigley. (Culled from Food & Wine’s Favorite Cookbooks of 2020 and The Guardian’s Best Cookbooks and Food Writing of 2020.

I saw Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia on several lists, including Library Journal’s Best Books 2020.

The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson and The Alchemy of Us by Ainissa Ramirez both made Smithsonian Magazine’s The Ten Best Science Books of 2020.

Hyperallergic has selected Some of the Best Art Books of 2020, including Kuniyoshi by Matthi Forrer.

For the Times Literary Supplement’s Books of the Year 2020, dozens of writers selected their favorite reads of the year. Elizabeth Lowry recommended Artemisia, the companion book to the exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi’s at The National Gallery and sadly the best way for most of us to be able to enjoy this show.

More lists: Audible’s The Best of 2020 and Washington Post’s The 10 Best Books of 2020. I’ll update this post a couple of times in the next week with more lists as I run across them.

If you’d like to check out what I’ve read recently, take a look at my list on Bookshop.org.

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!

My Recent Media Diet, The Late 2020 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2020

Forgive me reader, for I have been lazy. It’s been 7 months since I’ve shared a list of the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts that I’ve been watching/reading/listening to, uh, recently. But I’ve been diligently keeping track1 and so here’s everything I’ve consumed since early May. Warning: soooo much TV and soooo many movies (and bad ones at that) and very few books. At the end of most days — after work, parenting, cooking yet another meal I’m not actually in the mood for, and constantly refreshing Instagram — I just don’t have enough left in the tank for books. (Oh, and as usual, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades!)

Winds of Change. A fun ride but ultimately kind of empty? (B)

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Perhaps not what you’d expect going in — thought-provoking on almost every page. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show — Madeline Miller. Super interesting, especially if you’ve read Song of Achilles or Circe. (A-)

Godzilla. This was sort of the tail end of my pandemic disaster movie film fest. (C+)

Fetch the Bolt Cutters. I love that this exists but it is not for me. (B-)

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel. I knew it was coming, Thomas Cromwell’s downfall; it’s historical fact after all. But somehow the actual moment shocked me, despite Mantel’s careful foreshadowing over hundreds of pages. (A)

Normal People. No way in hell was this going to be as good as the book, but they somehow did it. Stellar casting. (A-)

Fleabag Live. I wanted to love this like I loved the TV show but could not get into it. (C+)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Whatever else you might think about the third SW trilogy, the casting was fantastic. (B+)

Partysaurus Rex. One of my favorite Pixar shorts. (A-)

Iron Man 3. The only MCU movie I hadn’t seen. It was…fine? (B)

Dunkirk. A masterpiece. (A)

Arrival. Another masterpiece. (A)

Kursk. This should have been better. (B)

Harry Potter at Home. My kids and I listened to this in the car and loved it. (A-)

Watchmen. After admitting I’d stopped watching after a few episodes, several of you urged me to keep going. I finished it but still was not as dazzled as everyone else seemed to be. Maybe if I’d read the graphic novel? (B+)

Against the Rules with Michael Lewis (season two). This season was all about coaching and may have been even better than the first season. (A-)

The General. A silent film masterpiece from Buster Keaton. The kids were a little bored at first but ultimately loved it. (A-)

The Endless. Solid sci-fi horror. (B)

13th. A powerful argument that slavery is still constitutionally legal and alive & well in the United States. (A)

Ida. Beautiful film. (B+)

The Last Dance. I grew up watching and rooting for Jordan and the Bulls, so this was the perfect nostalgic entertainment. Jordan comes off as both more and less of a dick than I remember. (A-)

Da 5 Bloods. This was a mess. (C+)

Undone. Inventive animated sci-fi with plenty of plot left for season two. (B+)

Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls by Sonya Renee Taylor. Borrowed this from my daughter to brush up on how to help her approach some changes coming down the pike. (A-)

Beyond Meat. I snuck some of their ground “beef” into a casserole to try it out and see if the kids would notice. They didn’t at first, but once I told them, the three of us agreed that it was not that tasty — and definitely didn’t taste like beef. Plus I had an upset stomach until noon the next day. (C-)

Knives Out. I enjoyed this much more the second time. (A-)

Honeyland. A maddening microcosm of modernity. (A)

The Conversation. Maybe this hit me on an off-night? (B+)

The Great. Super fun show from the screenwriter of The Favourite. (A-)

Hamilton. Obviously better in person (and 4 years ago), but the performances and music are so great it doesn’t matter. (A)

Slate Money — Modern Monetary Theory. Really interesting alternate way of thinking about the economy, federal debt, inflation, and taxes. They kinda jumped right into the middle of it though, leaving this interested MMT beginner a little baffled. (B)

12 Monkeys. So very 90s. Brad Pitt is great in this though. (B+)

Cloud Atlas. An underrated gem. (A)

The Old Guard. Engaging and built for a sequel. But what isn’t these days? (B+)

Cars 2. I’d only ever seen the first 2/3s of this because my then-4-year-old son was so upset that the onscreen baddies were going to kill Lightning McQueen that we had to leave the theater. (B-)

Nintendo Switch. Such a fun little console that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (A-)

Greyhound. Not Hanks’ best effort. (B)

Radioactive. An overly complicated movie about a complex woman. (B+)

Ratatouille. The scene where Ego takes his first bite of ratatouille still gives me goosebumps. (A)

The Speed Cubers. Heartwarming story. (B+)

Project Power. Incredible that they were able to turn the story of Henrietta Lacks into a superhero movie. (B+)

Pluto TV. Am I the last person on Earth to find out about this app? Dozens of channels of reruns that you can’t pause and are interrupted by ads, just like old school TV. I’ve been watching far too much old Doctor Who on here. (B+)

Folklore. I don’t really get Taylor Swift and that’s ok. (C)

This Land. Excellent and infuriating — this had me yelling at my car radio. (A)

13 Minutes to the Moon — Apollo 13. Not as good as season one about Apollo 11 or Saving Apollo 13, but still compelling. (B+)

Black Panther. Had to rewatch. Rest in peace, Chadwick Boseman. What a loss. (A-)

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. Anything she writes, I will read. (A)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I had forgotten how slow this starts, but once it gets going it’s completely gripping, even the quiet parts. (A-)

Contact by Carl Sagan. First time I’d read this in many years. Did not resonate as much as it had in the past. (B+)

Contact. They should have sent a poet. (A-)

True Grit. Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic in this. (A)

Being John Malkovich. Terrific performance by Malkovich. This was a favorite movie of mine for years but its impact on me has lessened. (B+)

Reply All, Country of Liars. The origin story of QAnon. But let’s just say there are some unreliable narrators in this story. (B+)

Jurassic Park. A blockbuster masterpiece. (A)

50 First Dates. One of the very few Sandler comedies I really like. (B+)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Really did not vibe with this one. (C+)

Pride & Prejudice. I am a huge sucker for this film. (A)

MASS MoCA. Took a day trip down here back in October. My first museum since Feb. Sol LeWitt, James Turrell, Jenny Holzer, great building, virtually no one here on a weekday — very much worth the 6-hour RT car ride. (A+)

Palm Springs. Groundhog Day + 50 First Dates. (A-)

Kona Honzo. After getting a taste of mountain biking on a borrowed bike, I upgraded to this hardtail. Had some really great rides on it but also stupidly crashed, landed on my face, had to go to the ER, and got 9 stitches on my chin. Would not recommend crashing (stupidly or otherwise, but especially stupidly), but I liked mountain biking enough to get back on the bike a couple of weeks later. (A-)

My Octopus Teacher. As I said previously: “It’s such a simple movie but it packs a surprising emotional wallop and is philosophically rich. Even (or perhaps especially) the bits that seem problematic are thought-provoking.” (A)

His Dark Materials. I like the show but the main character is so irritating that I don’t know if I can keep watching… (B+)

You’re Wrong About — Princess Diana. I never fully understood the appeal of Princess Diana but now I do. Excellent 5-part series. (A)

Human Nature. Documentary on Netflix about the discovery and potential of Crispr. (B+)

The Booksellers. Was ultimately not that interested in this. (B)

Ted Lasso. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood + Major League. Who knew you could make radical empathy funny? (A+)

The Queen’s Gambit. So well done in almost every way. (A)

Haywire. Solid Soderbergh thriller. (B+)

Enola Holmes. I will watch almost any Sherlock Holmes adaptation, riff, or spin-off. (B+)

The Trial of the Chicago 7. I loved this. Classic Sorkin and great ensemble cast performance. (A)

Zama. Maybe surrealist film is not my cup of tea. (B)

AlphaGo. I’d read a lot about the events in this film, but seeing it play out was still gripping and surprising. This and My Octopus Teacher would make a great double feature about the shifting definition of what makes humans human. (A)

The Way I See It. Pete Souza reflects on his proximity to power. (B+)

The Queen. Had to watch this after the Princess Di You’re Wrong About series. (B+)

Lego Star Wars Holiday Special. Is this canon now? If so, I have some questions. (C)

Carol. Holy shit, wonderful! I think I held my breath for the last two minutes of the movie. (A+)

Song Exploder. TV version of the OG podcast. The REM episode was great. (B+)

Rogue One. I wouldn’t call this the best Star Wars movie, but it isn’t not the best Star Wars movie either. (A-)

Little Women. Rewatched. I love this movie. (A)

Tenet. Primer + James Bond. Maybe the pandemic has made me dumber, but this totally confused me. In a bad way — it could/should have been simpler. (B)

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. A masterful examination of the skin color-based caste system of the United States, compared and contrasted with the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany. (A)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

  1. People have asked so here’s the extensive system I use to keep track of everything: the Notes app on my phone.

Powell’s Books Is Releasing a Fragrance that Smells Like a Bookstore

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2020

Powell's Books fragrance

Beloved Portland indie bookseller Powell’s Books is selling a unisex fragrance that smells like a bookstore.

This scent contains the lives of countless heroes and heroines. Apply to the pulse points when seeking sensory succor or a brush with immortality.

According to KOIN, the company noticed that customers missed the smell when they were closed during the pandemic lockdown in the spring.

Powell’s Books is releasing a limited edition unisex fragrance that captures what they said is what customers missed most about Powell’s — the aroma.

Store officials said they surveyed customers about what they missed while the store was temporarily closed by the pandemic. It’s not the books. It’s the smell.

The perfume comes packaged in something that looks like a book, like a hidden bottle of hooch or a gun.

If you can’t get your hands on Powell’s scent, you have other options. Demeter makes a fragrance called Paperback that’s available in a variety of formats (cologne, shower gel, diffuser oil) and Christopher Brosius offers a scent called In The Library in his shop. (via moss & fog)

Ruby Bridges Tells Her Story

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2020

The Problem We All Live With

In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges became the first Black student at the newly desegregated William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Escorted to her first day of school by federal marshals, she was immortalized by Normal Rockwell in a 1964 painting called The Problem We All Live With. Bridges has a new book out today called This Is Your Time.

Written as a letter from civil rights activist and icon Ruby Bridges to the reader, This Is Your Time is both a recounting of Ruby’s experience as a child who had no choice but to be escorted to class by federal marshals when she was chosen as one of the first black students to integrate New Orleans’ all-white public school system and an appeal to generations to come to effect change.

In a segment on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Bridges shared some of her story from the book.

The first day that I arrived with federal marshals, they rushed me inside of the building. And 500 kids walked out of school that first day and they never returned.

[Making friends] did not come easy because I heard kids, there were days when I would go into this coat closet to hang up my coat and I could hear kids laughing and talking, but I never saw them. Later on, I came to realize that they were being hidden from me in another classroom.

And that was because there were some white parents who actually crossed that picket line and brought their kids to school. But the principal who was part of the opposition, she would hide them. And even though I was complaining — or at least mentioning it to Mrs. Henry, she would never say anything to me, but she was actually going to the principal and saying, if you don’t allow those kids to come together, because the law has now changed, then I’m going to report you to the superintendent. And so I think after months of that, we were allowed to come together.

Bridges is only 66 years old today — this was all not so long ago.

Update: Sad news: Ruby’s mother, Lucille Bridges, died yesterday at the age of 86.

Her daughter went on to become an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, memorialized in Norman Rockwell’s famous painting “The Problem We All Live With” which depicts a tiny Ruby in a white dress carrying her notebooks and a ruler surrounded by much taller U.S. Marshals. But Ruby Bridges once credited her parents as the forces behind her history-making achievement.

“My parents are the real heroes,” the U.S. Marshals Service once quoted her as saying during a ceremony at an art gallery showing the painting. “They (sent me to that public school) because they felt it was the right thing to do.”

Beloved Children’s Book Covers Reimagined In a Modernist Style

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2020

Modernist cover for The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Modernist cover for Goodnight Moon

Over on his Instagram, Raj Haldar is making modernist versions of book covers for children’s books. So far there’s Goodnight Moon, The Snowy Day, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Haldar’s own P Is For Pterodactyl, and a few others. Here’s what he says about Goodnight Moon:

Today, I’ve reduced ‘Goodnight Moon’ to nothing more than a few circles, rectangles, and triangles. What’s amazing, and a testament to how deeply this classic picture book is embedded in our collective consciousness is that even as a collection of the most simple forms, the cover is thoroughly recognizable.

(via print)

Obama on the Struggle to Reform Healthcare in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2020

Barack Obama in the Oval Office

Barack Obama’s forthcoming memoir, A Promised Land, is coming out next month. The New Yorker is running an excerpt of the book, an account of his administration’s struggle to get the Affordable Care Act through Congress.

As time went on, though, it became hard to ignore some of the more troubling impulses driving the movement. As had been true at Palin rallies, reporters at Tea Party events caught attendees comparing me to animals or Hitler. Signs turned up showing me dressed like an African witch doctor with a bone through my nose. Conspiracy theories abounded: that my health-care bill would set up “death panels” to evaluate whether people deserved treatment, clearing the way for “government-encouraged euthanasia,” or that it would benefit illegal immigrants, in the service of my larger goal of flooding the country with welfare-dependent, reliably Democratic voters. The Tea Party also resurrected an old rumor from the campaign: that I was not only Muslim but had actually been born in Kenya, and was therefore constitutionally barred from serving as President. By September, the question of how much nativism and racism explained the Tea Party’s rise had become a major topic of debate on the cable shows-especially after the former President and lifelong Southerner Jimmy Carter offered up the opinion that the extreme vitriol directed toward me was at least in part spawned by racist views.

At the White House, we made a point of not commenting on any of this — and not just because Axe had reams of data telling us that white voters, including many who supported me, reacted poorly to lectures about race. As a matter of principle, I didn’t believe a President should ever publicly whine about criticism from voters — it’s what you signed up for in taking the job — and I was quick to remind both reporters and friends that my white predecessors had all endured their share of vicious personal attacks and obstructionism.

More practically, I saw no way to sort out people’s motives, especially given that racial attitudes were woven into every aspect of our nation’s history. Did that Tea Party member support “states’ rights” because he genuinely thought it was the best way to promote liberty, or because he continued to resent how federal intervention had led to desegregation and rising Black political power in the South? Did that conservative activist oppose any expansion of the social-welfare state because she believed it sapped individual initiative or because she was convinced that it would benefit only brown people who had just crossed the border? Whatever my instincts might tell me, whatever truths the history books might suggest, I knew I wasn’t going to win over any voters by labelling my opponents racist.

The harbingers of Trumpism throughout this piece are difficult to ignore.

The NYPL’s Essential Reads on Feminism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2020

NYPL's Books on Feminism

To mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that made some women eligible to vote in the United States, the New York Public Library is sharing its picks for Essential Reads on Feminism.

The list includes first-hand accounts and histories of the suffrage movement that chronicle both its successes and its limitations — particularly for women of color — as well as contemporary essays on how feminism intersects with race, class, education, and LGBTQ+ activism. From personal memoirs to historical overviews, featuring writing by seminal figures and lesser-known pioneers, the list traces the development of the feminist ideas that have powered the campaign for gender equality, in all its complexity and boldness. While far from complete, the list nevertheless provides a starting point for learning about the history of feminism and for exploring the issues and challenges that many women face today.

They’ve split the list into three main sections according to reader age: kids, teens, and adults. I’m going to highlight a few of the selections from each list here.

For kids:

Black Girl Magic by Mahogany L. Browne. “Black Girl Magic is a journey from girlhood to womanhood and an invitation to readers to find magic in themselves.”

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo. My daughter tells me about the women she’s read about in this book all the time.

I Am Enough by Grace Byers. “We are all here for a purpose. We are more than enough. We just need to believe it.”

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai. “Nobel Peace Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author Malala Yousafzai’s first picture book, inspired by her own childhood.”

Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood. “Fresh, accessible, and inspiring, Shaking Things Up introduces fourteen revolutionary young women — each paired with a noteworthy female artist — to the next generation of activists, trail-blazers, and rabble-rousers.”

For teens:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. “Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself.”

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall. “Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists is an indispensable resource for people of all genders interested in the fight for a more liberated future.”

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “Filled with compassionate guidance and advice, it gets right to the heart of sexual politics in the twenty-first century, and starts a new and urgently needed conversation about what it really means to be a woman today.”

Modern Herstory: Stories of Women and Nonbinary People Rewriting History by Blair Imani. “An inspiring and radical celebration of 70 women, girls, and gender nonbinary people who have changed — and are still changing — the world, from the Civil Rights Movement and Stonewall riots through Black Lives Matter and beyond.”

Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill. “Rethinking Normal is a coming-of-age story about transcending physical appearances and redefining the parameters of ‘normalcy’ to embody one’s true self.”

For adults:

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. “A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.”

Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism by Omise’eke Tinsley. “In Beyoncé in Formation, Tinsley now takes her rich observations beyond the classroom, using the blockbuster album and video Lemonade as a soundtrack for vital new-millennium narratives.”

A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry & Kali Nicole Gross. “A vibrant and empowering history that emphasizes the perspectives and stories of African American women to show how they are — and have always been — instrumental in shaping our country.”

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. “The Combahee River Collective, a path-breaking group of radical black feminists, was one of the most important organizations to develop out of the antiracist and women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s.”

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. “The antidote to mansplaining.”

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness.”

Again, you can access NYPL’s lists here.

Edward Tufte’s New Book: Seeing with Fresh Eyes

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2020

Data visualization pioneer Edward Tufte has published four books on the art and science of displaying information, including the seminal The Visual Display of Quantitative Information in 1983. To that set, he now adds a fifth book: Seeing with Fresh Eyes: Meaning, Space, Data, Truth. I couldn’t find a description of the book, but the website lists the table of contents and shows a few of the page layouts.

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

His previous four books are some of my favorites about design. You can only order Seeing with Fresh Eyes direct from his site, which says the book is shipping in mid-October. (thx, dewayne)

Accidentally Wes Anderson, the Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2020

Accidentally Wes Anderson book cover

Inspired by the symmetry and color palettes of Wes Anderson’s movies, the Instagram account Accidentally Wes Anderson has been collecting and featuring photos from folks all over the world that wouldn’t look out of place in The Royal Tenenbaums or The Grand Budapest Hotel. The creators have turned it into a new book called Accidentally Wes Anderson, which features many of the best contributions from the account. It sounds like it’s kind of a travel book, a visually oriented Atlas Obscura.

Now, inspired by a community of more than one million Adventurers, Accidentally Wes Anderson tells the stories behind more than 200 of the most beautiful, idiosyncratic, and interesting places on Earth. This book, authorized by Wes Anderson himself, travels to every continent and into your own backyard to identify quirky landmarks and undiscovered gems: places you may have passed by, some you always wanted to explore, and many you never knew existed.

And while we’re here, I picked out a few of my recent favorites from their Instagram:

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Accidentally Wes Anderson

Erno Rubik’s New Book on “the Imperfect Science of Creation”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2020

Erno Rubik recently wrote what sounds like a delightfully unorthodox autobiography/memoir about his invention of the Rubik’s Cube and his philosophy about creativity.

In Cubed, Rubik covers more than just his journey to inventing his eponymous cube. He makes a case for always being an amateur-something he has always considered himself to be. He discusses the inevitability of problems during any act of invention. He reveals what it was like to experience the astonishing worldwide success of an object he made purely for his own play. And he offers what he thinks it means to be a true creator (hint: anyone can do it). Steeped in the wisdom and also the humility of a born inventor, Cubed offers a unique look at the imperfect science of creation.

Even the structure of the book is odd. From a review of the book in the NY Times by Alexandra Alter:

“On the way to trying to understand the nature of the cube, I changed my mind,” Rubik said. “What really interested me was not the nature of the cube, but the nature of people, the relationship between people and the cube.”

Reading “Cubed” can be a strange, disorienting experience, one that’s analogous to picking up and twisting one of his cubes. It lacks a clear narrative structure or arc — an effect that’s deliberate, Rubik said. Initially, he didn’t even want the book to have chapters or even a title.

“I had several ideas, and I thought to share this mixture of ideas that I have in my mind and leave it to the reader to find out which ones are valuable,” he said. “I am not taking your hands and walking you on this route. You can start at the end or in the middle.”

I’ve never learned how to solve one without consulting a book, but like many people who grew up in the 80s, I’ve always been captivated by the Rubik’s Cube. It’s both simple and endlessly complex and can somehow be solved in under 3.5 seconds now. It’s exactly the type of thing that could only have been invented by an amateur in his spare time and who still wonders about it almost 50 years later. (via austin kleon)

Xi’an Famous Foods Cookbook!

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2020

Xi'an Famous Foods Cookbook

I moved away from NYC more than four years ago, and I still think about Xi’an Famous Foods all the time. I miss going there and pondering the make-up of the mind-bendingly delicious sauces they ladled out onto their hand-pulled noodles — “What the hell is in here that makes it taste so good?” Xi’an is one of my favorite restaurants, but with the pandemic and all, the last time I ate there was nearly an entire year ago. So it’s not an understatement to say that I’m overjoyed to see that they are coming out with a cookbook: Xi’an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York’s Favorite Noodle Shop .

CEO Jason Wang divulges the untold story of how this empire came to be, alongside the never-before-published recipes that helped create this New York City icon. From heavenly ribbons of liang pi doused in a bright vinegar sauce to flatbread filled with caramelized pork to cumin lamb over hand-pulled Biang Biang noodles, this cookbook helps home cooks make the dishes that fans of Xi’an Famous Foods line up for while also exploring the vibrant cuisine and culture of Xi’an.

Lemme just highlight the most important part of that paragraph: never-before-published recipes. YESSSSS. The cookbook is coming out next week, but you can pre-order it now from Bookshop.org and Amazon.

The Typography of Star Trek

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2020

Star Trek title card

poster fro Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek typography

In an extended excerpt from his book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies (Amazon), Dave Addey goes long on the typography and design of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and Trek in general).

Alas, The Original Series’s inconsistent typography did not survive the stylistic leap into the 1970s. To make up for it, The Motion Picture’s title card introduces a new font, with some of the curviest Es known to sci-fi. It also follows an emerging seventies trend: Movie names beginning with STAR must have long trailing lines on the opening S.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2020

Cover of Barack Obama's book, A Promised Land

A Promised Land is a forthcoming memoir from Barack Obama that he says is “an honest accounting of my presidency, the forces we grapple with as a nation, and how we can heal our divisions and make democracy work for everybody”. Here’s the official description of the book:

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency — a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy.

A Promised Land will be released November 17 but you can preorder it on Bookshop or for the Kindle.

Update: The Atlantic is running the adapted and updated preface to Obama’s book.

First and foremost, I hoped to give an honest rendering of my time in office — not just a historical record of key events that happened on my watch and important figures with whom I interacted but also an account of some of the political, economic, and cultural crosscurrents that helped determine the challenges my administration faced and the choices my team and I made in response. Where possible, I wanted to offer readers a sense of what it’s like to be the president of the United States; I wanted to pull the curtain back a bit and remind people that, for all its power and pomp, the presidency is still just a job and our federal government is a human enterprise like any other, and the men and women who work in the White House experience the same daily mix of satisfaction, disappointment, office friction, screwups, and small triumphs as the rest of their fellow citizens. Finally, I wanted to tell a more personal story that might inspire young people considering a life of public service: how my career in politics really started with a search for a place to fit in, a way to explain the different strands of my mixed-up heritage, and how it was only by hitching my wagon to something larger than myself that I was ultimately able to locate a community and purpose for my life.

You can even listen to Obama read the excerpt in an embedded audio player.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2020

Book cover for Four Hundred Souls

From historians Keisha N. Blain (author of Set the World on Fire) and Ibram X. Kendi (author of How to Be an Antiracist) comes what sounds like a fascinating new book, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019. As editors, Blain and Kendi assembled 90 Black writers & poets to write a chronological history of Black America. Details on the bookseller sites are sparse, but Kendi explained the project on Instagram:

Histories of Black America have almost always been written by individuals, usually men. But why not a community of writers chronicling the history of a community? Keisha and I assembled a community of eighty Black writers and ten Black poets who represented some of the best Black recorders of Black America at its four-hundred-year mark. Though the project was conceived in late 2018, most of the pieces were written in 2019. We wanted the community to be writing during the four hundredth year. We wanted FOUR HUNDRED SOULS to write history and be history, a diary entry in the history of letters when Black America symbolically turned four hundred years old.

In different ways and forms, eighty writers each chronicled five years of Black America’s history in succession, amounting to four hundred years. They related that history, those five years, to our time. The volume’s first writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, writes from August 20, 1619 to August 19, 1624. The volume’s final writer, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, writes from August 20, 2014 to August 19, 2019. All 90 contributors are leaders in their fields. I can’t wait to introduce all of them. The lineup is beyond belief.

FOUR HUNDRED SOULS has ten sections, each spanning forty years. Each section concludes with a poem that recaptures forty years of the history in verse. Sometimes history is best captured by poets — as these ten Black poets show. Indeed, the lives of Black Americans have been nothing short of poetic.

That sounds super interesting, in both form and content. You can preorder Four Hundred Souls today; it comes out on Feb 2nd.

The Best Self-Help Books of the 21st Century

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

I appreciated this list of 21 Books for a Better You in the 21st Century from Kelli María Korducki, filled with books that help the self without necessarily being quote-unquote self-help books. Here are a few selections I found interesting:

The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. “Taylor argues that our personal bodily hang-ups — and the beauty standards that inform them — are manifestations of internalized inequality. By lending credence to unjust strictures, our self-hate inadvertently perpetuates oppression.”

Quiet by Susan Cain. “In a culture that rewards ‘being bold’ and ‘putting yourself out there,’ Quiet proposes that the most effective leaders aren’t necessarily the biggest personalities.”

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. “Part love letter to the burnout generation, part anti-Capitalist manifesto, Odell proposes a mass reclamation of attention — our most precious, and precarious, resource — to soothe our existential overload.”

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. “In an age of accumulation fueled by one-click consumerism, Kondo’s ‘konmari’ offers a simple formula for relief from the burden of clutter — literally and, perhaps, existentially.”

I would like to put my vote in for an addition to the list: Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (also, a self-help book for people skeptical of self-help books).

Looking both east and west, in bulletins from the past and from far afield, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual group of people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. Whether experimental psychologists, terrorism experts, Buddhists, hardheaded business consultants, Greek philosophers, or modern-day gurus, they argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it’s our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty — the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counterintuitive, and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is the intelligent person’s guide to understanding the much-misunderstood idea of happiness.

I’ve read The Antidote twice; I’ve learned a lot from it and it inspired me to delve deeper into some of the people and philosophies he features. I think reading it, in a significant and long-term way, actually has made me happier.

Interior Space: A Visual Exploration of the International Space Station

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2020

Interior Space ISS

Interior Space ISS

Roland Miller, a long-time photographer of space exploration projects, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli has teamed up to produce a book of photographs of the interior of the International Space Station. According to a profile of the project from Colossal, Miller used interior views of the ISS on Google Earth to stage shots, which would then be executed by Nespoli in space. Nespoli, an engineer, also built a stabilizing rig for the camera.

Because the ISS was in a weightless environment with fluctuating light, many of the images astronauts typically capture utilize a flash, which Miller, who generally photographs using a very low shutter speed, wanted to avoid. “The first problem you run into is you can’t use a tripod in space because it just floats away, and the station itself is going 17,500 miles an hour. Just because of the size and the speed, there’s a harmonic vibration to it,” he notes. To combat the constant quivering, Nespoli constructed a stabilizing bipod and shot about 135 images with a high shutter speed, before sending the shots to Miller for aesthetic editing.

You can get a copy of the book (or prints) by backing the project on Kickstarter.