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The Talk

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2023

the cover for a graphic novel called The Talk by Darrin Bell

Darrin Bell, who won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, wrote a graphic novel called The Talk about the conversation that parents have to have with their Black children in America about police, racism, and safety.

Darrin Bell was six years old when his mother told him he couldn’t have a realistic water gun. She said she feared for his safety, that police tend to think of little Black boys as older and less innocent than they really are. Through evocative illustrations and sharp humor, Bell examines how The Talk shaped intimate and public moments from childhood to adulthood.

Deirdre Sugiuchi talked with Bell about the book for Electric Lit. I think this question & answer was particularly interesting:

DS: In this book, you’re delving into this dichotomy between how your Black father and grandfather addressed racism, versus the way your Jewish mother advocated for you. Can you discuss how being biracial contributes to your understanding of how whiteness and power operates in America?

DB: Well, first of all, I got to see how both sides of my family censored themselves for different reasons. The Black side of my family would say things around each other that they would never say if a white person was around, not for fear of offending white person, but for fear of the white person doing something to them. White people inherently have power. If they said something offensive, a white person could somehow figure out how to ruin their career, how to get them fired, how to get the police to come over. They could lie. They could twist their words and it would have real, concrete effects on their lives.

The white side of my family, I think sometimes they would forget that I was there. As part of the family, I would see casual racism. They’re Jewish β€” I’m sure it’s worse with people whose family are white and aren’t Jewish. I’ve heard from a lot of those people directly in the form of hate mail. I know what kind of things they say. But Jews are a little different, because they’ve been discriminated against too. They’ve had atrocious things happen to them, barbaric things. So, they know that what they’re saying is wrong, but they sometimes say it anyway. But whenever my grandmother would seem to realize or remember that I was in the room, she censored herself, but I could tell it was only to preserve my feelings. It wasn’t because she was afraid I would ever do anything to her. She knew I didn’t have any power over her.

See also: Black Parents Talk to Their Kids About the Police.

Do You Say “Tennis Shoes”, “Gym Shoes”, or “Sneakers”?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2023

This is a map of how people in different geographic regions of the US refer to athletic footwear, courtesy of Josh Katz, author of Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk and co-creator of that NY Times dialect quiz that went viral 10 years ago.

a map of the USA indicating which terms people use for athletic shoes

Growing up in northern Wisconsin, we said “tennis shoes” or “tennies” most of the time (even though very little actual tennis was being played) and “gym shoes” less often. I hadn’t really heard of “sneakers” as a kid and never used it. (Shoes for sneaking? Huh?) My kids were born in NYC and they give me shit every time I tell them to put their tennies on. πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ

What do you call athletic shoes? Tennies? Sneakers? Kicks? Trainers? Gym shoes? Some other weird thing? (via @dens)

A 2-Minute Clip From 3 Body Problem

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2023

The premiere date for the Netflix adaptation of Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem trilogy by Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff inches ever closer and, well, I just really want this to be good (because I enjoyed the book series so much). Between the teaser trailer and the clip above, I am cautiously optimistic. 3 Body Problem is out on Netflix on March 21, 2024.

Choosing a Leader Wisely

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2023

From Octavia Bulter’s Parable of the Talents:

Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

Context and more from The Marginalian. (via @rowanwhite & kelsey)

My Recent Media Diet, Fall 2023 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2023

I know I always say this, but I didn’t mean for so much time to elapse since the last installment of the media diet. But I have a slightly different reason for the delay this time: I have been really busy with work and family stuff, so much so that I haven’t been reading or watching as much as I usually do. So I needed to wait a couple of months to collect enough stuff.

Anyway. Here’s my recent media diet, a roundup of what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and experiencing over the past few months. ✌️

The Creator. Original, engaging sci-fi with good action, heart, and something to say. Madeleine Yuna Voyles is the best child actor I’ve seen in years. (A)

Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson. I’m still making my way through this one but I’m going to review it now because Virginia Heffernan was absolutely correct in saying that the first part of the book is “the most lucid just-so story for Trump’s rise I’ve ever heard”. Richardson ties so many things together so succinctly that by the end of it, Trump feels not like an abberation but more like the result of a plan that conservatives have been striving towards for decades. (A+)

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. Watched this twice: once in the theater and once at home. I didn’t like this quite as much as Fallout (or Top Gun: Maverick tbh), but this is a top-notch action movie. The tiny car chase on the streets of Rome is πŸ’―. (A-)

The ocean. Still undefeated. (A+)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2. *sigh* Like many of you, I am extremely disappointed with the weird & harmful anti-trans crusade the author of the Harry Potter book series has embarked on over the last few years and it’s prompted me to attempt a reevaluation of my relationship to these movies and books. But I’ve had some difficulty doing so because the Potter wizarding world is so wrapped up in spending quality time with my kids (particularly after their mom and I separated) that it’s hard to have anything but extremely fond feelings for it all. Over a period of five or so years, we read the whole series together at bedtime and I can’t even put into words how meaningful that time together was. We’re listening to the series on audiobook in the car right now…it’s one of the few things my two teens and I really enjoy doing with one another.

Anyway, all that is to say that when some recent changes in our schedule together β€” good, developmentally appropriate changes for them but changes nonetheless β€” caused some parental melancholy, I watched these three films on back-to-back-to-back nights just to feel close to my kids in some way. It was just the thing. (A)

American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. Perhaps not the beach read I needed, but the one I deserved. I liked this maybe a bit better than the movie, but still not nearly as much as Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb (and its sequel, Dark Sun). (A-)

Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland. This was excellent. Listening to actual people who lived and worked in Northern Ireland during the Troubles β€” victims, murderers, police officers, bystanders, family members of those who were killed β€” was completely enthralling and brought the 30-year conflict to life in a way that Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing couldn’t, as good as it was. I’ve been thinking about this series a lot over the past few weeks as the latest tragedy unfolds in Gaza. (A+)

The Repair. Another excellent podcast series from Scene on Radio, this one on climate crisis. I’ve read quite a bit about the climate over the past decade or two, so I thought I knew what to expect going in, but this takes a pretty unique angle. For one thing, they don’t start with the Industrial Revolution…their lead-in to the topic is the Book of Genesis. And it keeps going in unexpected directions from there. I think even a seasoned observer of the crisis will find something interesting here. (A)

The Belan Deck by Matt Bucher. Maybe a better choice of beach read than American Prometheus…I finished this slim, creative tome in one sitting on my final day at the ocean. Here’s a better review than this one. (B+)

The Postal Service & Death Cab for Cutie: Give Up & Transatlanticism 20th Anniversary Tour. Saw this in New Haven in a former outdoor tennis arena. So wonderfully nostalgic. I’m a bigger fan of Give Up but the track of the evening for me was Transatlanticism by Death Cab…it sent honest-to-god chills down my spine. (A)

The mashed potato pizza from Bar. I’d tried this once before and found it kinda meh. But not this time around…I couldn’t stop eating it. (A)

the exterior of the Hotel Marcel, a brutalist building desgined by Marcel Breuer

Hotel Marcel. If you’ve ever driven on I-95 through New Haven, you’ve probably noticed the brutalist building unceremoniously situated in the Ikea parking lot. Designed by Marcel Breuer, the former Armstrong Rubber Company Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2021 and converted to the Hotel Marcel a year later. Pretty cool to be able to stay in such a well-designed building. (B+)

The Super Mario Bros. Movie. This was perfectly fine. But it had that tightly controlled and over-engineered feeling that many franchise movies have these days. (B)

Arrival. Still an absolute banger and one of my all-time faves. And I notice a little something new every time I watch it. (A+)

The Flash. Better than I expected! And I bought the Quick Bite emote in Fortnite. Can we staaaahpp with the multiverse tho? (B+)

Legally Blonde. First time. Enjoyed it! (B+)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Second time. It’s not the best Indy but I think in the long term, it will be rewatchable. (B+)

Tycho’s Burning Man Sunrise Set for 2023. Not quite up to past years, but it’s still in the while-working rotation. (B)

Ahsoka (season one). Hmm. This was slow, enjoyable, boring, engaging β€” sometimes all at once. Space whales tho? (B)

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. This is Wes Anderson, unplugged: simple sets, lots of acting, spare-but-precise cinematography, and a meta narrative. (A-)

Downhill mountain biking. Ollie and I went to a local ski area that offers lift service to mountain bike trails a few weeks ago and did several rides on a intermediate flow trail and it was the most fun I had all summer. I even got some air. (A+)

Boundaries, Burnout and the ‘Goopification’ of Self-Care. For the Ezra Klein Show, guest host Tressie McMillan Cottom (one of America’s leading public intellectuals) interviewed Pooja Lakshmin about what she calls Real Self-Care. Not yoga and juice cleanses but more like setting boundaries and practicing self-compassion. An excellent listen. (A-)

Wool by Hugh Howey. After really enjoying the Apple TV+ series, I was looking forward to dipping into the first book of the trilogy. But I preferred the show…and was also surprised when the book, well before the end, continued on past the events of the show. I stopped reading at that point and will revisit after the show’s second season. (B)

Killers of the Flower Moon. I wanted to like this more than I did. Great acting (particularly by De Niro, Gladstone, and Plemons) and it looked amazing but it lacked oomph. Plus I didn’t have a clear sense of what Scorsese was trying to say… (B+)

Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises. I watched these with my son (a budding Nolan fan) and I know this is sacrilege, but my favorite of the series is The Dark Knight Rises. Heath Ledger’s performance though… 🀑πŸ”₯. (A-)

I also have a bunch of stuff in progress, including The Vaster Wilds (good so far, need to make more time for it), the new season of The Great British Bake Off (my fave got eliminated in the first episode 😒), and Loki (skeptical this can match the style & weirdness of the first season). I stalled out on season three of The Great but I’m going to go back to it. I’m two episodes into Reservation Dogs (after many recommended it) and I love it already. And I haven’t even started Emily Wilson’s translation of The Iliad!

How about you? What have you been into lately? Anything you would particularly recommend? Let us know in the comments! (Just don’t argue with my grades…we all already know they don’t make any damn sense!)

Trailer for Stamped From the Beginning

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2023

Based on the bestselling book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (also available as a graphic novel), this documentary explores the mythology of American racism and how it still shapes the world today. The director is Oscar-winner Roger Ross Williams and in preparing for the film, he decided that only Black women would appear in it:

“When we started looking at historians and scholars, we came up with a long list. I noticed the pattern that most of the people doing the work around racism in America were Black women,” Williams told Netflix. “I asked them in pre-interviews, ‘Why do you do this work?’ And many of them said the same thing β€” that they had no choice. This was their experience and their life. And if they’re going to dedicate their life to something, it’s going to be about changing and understanding racism in America because they can’t escape racism in America. I said to everyone, ‘We’re going to have only Black women in this film.’ It was an important statement to make.

Stamped From the Beginning comes out on Netflix on November 20.

“How Lauren Groff, One of ‘Our Finest Living Writers,’ Does Her Work.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2023

I am currently reading1 Lauren Groff’s The Vaster Wilds, so I was interested to read about her writing process, which includes:

When Groff starts something new, she writes it out longhand in large spiral notebooks. After she completes a first draft, she puts it in a bankers box β€” and never reads it again. Then she’ll start the book over, still in longhand, working from memory. The idea is that this way, only the best, most vital bits survive.

“It’s not even the words on the page that accumulate, because I never look at them again, really, but the ideas and the characters start to take on gravity and density,” she said.

“Nothing matters except for these lightning bolts that I’ve discovered,” she continued, “the images that are happening, the sounds that are happening, that feel alive. Those are the only things that really matter from draft to draft.”

And also this:

In the afternoon, Groff deals with the business of being an author, responding to emails, doing publicity, writing blurbs. And she reads. A lot. In just the past few days, she said, she finished “Living and Dying With Marcel Proust,” completed a reread of “Moby Dick,” and started a graphic novel called “Roaming.” She estimates she reads about 300 books a year.

Groff will drop quotes into casual conversation, citing, say, Frank Lloyd Wright’s take on form and function, but she manages to do this in an entirely unaffected way, just tossing out an interesting nugget for consideration. Her editor, McGrath, said that Groff reread all of Shakespeare so she could write a version of “The Vaster Wilds” in iambic pentameter “just for fun,” as a way for her to master Elizabethan rhythms.

All of Shakespeare, just for fun. Yep.

  1. Or at least, trying to read. I’ve been super busy with work and at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is read more. But I will get back to it!

Is Rural America Even a Thing?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2023

the models for American Gothic standing next to the Grant Wood painting

For the New Yorker, Daniel Immerwahr reviews a new book, Steven Conn’s The Lies of the Land: Seeing Rural America for What It Is β€” and Isn’t (Bookshop.org), which makes the case that what we typically think of as rural America or “real America” is a mirage.

A piercing, unsentimental new book, “The Lies of the Land” (Chicago), by the historian Steven Conn, takes the long view. Wistful talk of “real America” aside, Conn, who teaches at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, argues that the rural United States is, in fact, highly artificial. Its inhabitants are as much creatures of state power and industrial capitalism as their city-dwelling counterparts. But we rarely acknowledge this, Conn writes, because many of us β€” urban and rural, on the left and the right β€” “don’t quite want it to be true.”

For one thing, the predominant rural population in what is now the United States was coercively removed and eliminated by the federal government:

Settlers styled themselves as pioneers who had won their land with their bare hands. This is how it went in “Little House on the Prairie,” with the frontier family racing ahead of the law to seize Indian property. (“Little Squatter on the Osage Diminished Reserve” would have been a more accurate title, the literary scholar Frances W. Kaye has archly suggested.) Yet in the end land ownership came, directly or indirectly, from the state. The Homestead Act of 1862, along with its successors, gridded up and gave away an area the size of Pakistan. And although homesteading sounds like a relic from the sepia-toned past, its most active period came, the historian Sara Gregg has pointed out, in the twentieth century. The final homesteader got his land in 1988.

1988! The very next paragraph:

One irony is that β€” after Indigenous towns β€” it’s the havens of the East Coast ‘elite, such as Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, which have the deepest roots. Most bastions of “real America” are, by contrast, relatively new. Wasilla, Alaska, where Sarah Palin served as mayor, really is a small town in a farming area. But most of its farms were created by a New Deal campaign to relocate struggling farmers from the Upper Midwest. (Hence Palin’s “you betcha” accent, similar to the Minnesota ones in the film “Fargo.”) Palin’s proud patch of “real America,” in other words, was courtesy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

This is one of those pieces I could quote every other paragraph so I’m gonna stop there.

Great Books Explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2023

One of my recent favorite YouTube channels is James Payne’s Great Art Explained, which does exactly what it says on the tin, showcasing works of art like Starry Night, the Great Wave, and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Payne recently launched a new channel in the same vein: Great Books Explained. Here’s a trailer, featuring a short clip of his exploration of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Being an avid reader, I always wanted to do a book channel as well, but did not have the time, so these films are collaborations with different writers who are passionate about certain books, and the first release will be James Joyce’s Ulysses (in this case co-created with Henry Mountford). This will be followed by Alice.

The video on James Joyce’s Ulysses is out now:

(via open culture)

America Is at a Familiar Crossroads

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2023

the book cover for Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson

This is a great overview and review by Teri Kanefield of Heather Cox Richardson’s new book, Democracy Awakening.

She opens with: “America is at a crossroads.”

But crossroads aren’t new. We’ve been at them before.

She shows how this moment is part of an ongoing struggle between a small group of white people who think that America was founded on principles of white supremacy and should remain that way, and the rest of us.

Throughout US history, the white supremacists have seized power and implemented minority rule: secession, Jim Crow & anti-immigration laws. Then the majority pushes back: the Civil War & Reconstruction, The New Deal.

The current GOP is a backlash against Brown v Board of Education (the Supreme Court case that declared racial segregation in schools unconstitutional.)

Richardson traces in detail how that backlash happened, and how today’s backlash echoes the language and attitudes of the Confederacy.

She shows Nixon and others tied taxes to “redistributing wealth” to “undeserving” people as a way to get lower income racists aboard an economic agenda that hurt them.

I really have to make time to read this book!

The Trailer for All the Light We Cannot See

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2023

This new series from Netflix looks pretty good β€” and it’s got an impeccable pedigree: it’s based on Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a Pulitzer Prize winner, National Book Award finalist, and a bestseller to boot. The four-part limited series premieres November 2nd.

Some of the Most Interesting and Weird Manuals in the Internet Archive

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2023

manual for an IBM typewriter featuring a woman sitting on the corncer of a desk with a typewriter on it

a line-up style photo of the inhabitants of McDonaldland

book cover for 'The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock'

a heavily marker-up cover for the CIA's Simple Sabotage Field Manual

cover for the NJ Transit Graphics Standards Manual

One could spend several hours delving into the Manuals Showcase over at the Internet Archive. Among the collection of handbooks, manuals, and guides, you’ll find gems like the IBM Model B Electric Typewriter User Manual 1954, The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock, CIA Simple Sabotage Field Manual, NJ Transit Graphics Standards Manual, and the McDonalds McDonaldland Specification Manual (1975).

I’ve written about the CIA Simple Sabotage Field Manual before β€” “some of these things are practically best practices in American business, not against enemies but against their employees, customers, and themselves”.

America Is Quickly Becoming More Nonreligious

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2023

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research recently conducted a poll asking Americans about their religious beliefs and found that about 30% of American adults are non-religious (which they refer to as “the nones”, presumably after the book by Ryan Burge).

The decades-long rise of the nones β€” a diverse, hard-to-summarize group β€” is one of the most talked about phenomena in U.S. religion. They are reshaping America’s religious landscape as we know it.

In U.S. religion today, “the most important story without a shadow of a doubt is the unbelievable rise in the share of Americans who are nonreligious,” said Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University and author of “The Nones,” a book on the phenomenon.

The nones account for a large portion of Americans, as shown by the 30% of U.S. adults who claim no religious affiliation in a survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Other major surveys say the nones have been steadily increasing for as long as three decades.

So who are they?

They’re the atheists, the agnostics, the “nothing in particular.” They’re the “spiritual but not religious,” and those who are neither or both. They span class, gender, age, race and ethnicity.

While the nones’ vast diversity splinters them into myriad subgroups, most of them have this in common:

They. Really. Don’t. Like. Organized. Religion.

But a dislike of organized religion among the nonreligious doesn’t necessarily translate into atheism or agnosticism: 43% of “the nones” say they believe in God.

Making It So, a Memoir by “Severe Bastard” Patrick Stewart

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2023

Fall always brings brisker days, earlier sunsets, and a whole raft of new books that are impossible to find the time to read. Add this memoir by Patrick Stewart to the pile next to your bed: Making It So (bookshop.org). The Hollywood Reporter has a great video excerpt with audio from the audiobook (narrated by Stewart himself, naturally) about his early days on Star Trek: The Next Generation:

From an accompanying article:

So when he was on set shooting the show’s debut season and co-stars like Jonathan Frakes, Denise Crosby and Brent Spiner would tease him or ad-lib a joke or laugh when they flubbed their lines, it would low-key infuriate him.

“I could be a severe bastard,” he writes. “My experiences at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre had been intense and serious… On the TNG set, I grew angry with the conduct of my peers, and that’s when I called that meeting in which I lectured the cast for goofing off and responded to Denise Crosby’s, ‘We’ve got to have some fun sometimes, Patrick’ comment by saying, ‘We are not here, Denise, to have fun.’”

“In retrospect,” Stewart continues, “everyone, me included, finds this story hilarious. But in the moment, when the cast erupted in hysterics at my pompous declaration, I didn’t handle it well. I didn’t enjoy being laughed at. I stormed off the set and into my trailer, slamming the door.”

Update: Gideon Lichfield has a great interview with Stewart for Wired.

Q: There’s a passage where you say that, from your father, “I drew Picard’s stern, intimidating tendencies. But I like to think that my mother is in the captain too, in his moments of warmth and sensitivity.” Do you see Picard as your way of reconciling that conflict between your parents?

A: Very much so, yes. Both Star Trek and therapy have been responsible for that. Having to open the doors into my childhood in order to be an actor became utterly intriguing to me in a way that it never had been before. And I regret that when I look back on some of the roles I played, what I might have brought to them if I just released myself a little bit more.

(via @samuelwade)

The Origins of the Socialist Slur

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2023

The Atlantic has an adapted excerpt from Heather Cox Richardson’s new book, Democracy Awakening: The Origins of the Socialist Slur. It begins:

For years after World War II, the “liberal consensus” β€” the New Deal idea that the federal government had a role to play in regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure β€” was a true consensus. It was so widely popular that in 1950, the critic Lionel Trilling wrote of the United States that “liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.”

But the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional tied the federal government to ensuring not just economic equality, but also civil rights. Opponents of the liberal consensus argued that the newly active federal government was misusing tax dollars taken from hardworking white men to promote civil rights for “undeserving” Black people. The troops President Dwight Eisenhower sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957, for example, didn’t come cheap. The government’s defense of civil rights redistributed wealth, they said, and so was virtually socialism.

Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2023

the book cover for Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America by Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson, author of the excellent Letters from an American newsletter, has a new book out today about the health of American democracy: Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America. From Virginia Heffernan’s review of the book in the Washington Post:

She has an intriguing origin point for today’s afflictions: the New Deal. The first third of the book, which hurtles toward Donald Trump’s election, is as bingeable as anything on Netflix. “Democracy Awakening” starts in the 1930s, when Americans who’d been wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash were not about to let the rich demolish the economy again. New Deal programs designed to benefit ordinary people and prevent future crises were so popular that by 1960 candidates of both parties were advised to simply “nail together” coalitions and promise them federal funding. From 1946 to 1964, the liberal consensus β€” with its commitments to equality, the separation of church and state, and the freedoms of speech, press and religion β€” held sway.

But Republican businessmen, who had caused the crash, despised the consensus. Richardson’s account of how right-wingers appropriated the word “socialism” from the unrelated international movement is astute. When invoked to malign all government investment, “socialism” served to recruit segregationist Democrats, who could be convinced that the word meant Black people would take their money, and Western Democrats, who resented government protections on land and water. This new Republican Party created an ideology that coalesced around White Christianity and free markets.

Heffernan calls this first part of Richardson’s book “the most lucid just-so story for Trump’s rise I’ve ever heard”. I’m in the midst of two other books right now (The Vaster Wilds & The Mountain in the Sea) but I might have to make room for a third.

Antique Book Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2023

a pattern of light green spirals on an orange background

a pattern of red spiral shapes on a light red background

paper with a marbled pattern

a pattern of dark green shapes on a light green background

repeating pattern of orange shapes

From the Bergen Public Library Norway, a collection of antique book patterns from front or end papers. The books in question are from 1890-1930. Lovely.

Of course, this reminds of one of my favorite videos I’ve posted: a 1970 short film on how to make marbled paper.

Birds of the World: The Art of Elizabeth Gould

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2023

cover of a book called Birds of the World: The Art of Elizabeth Gould with an illustration of a pair of toucans

illustrations of two pairs of colorful birds

illustration of a pair of black and white birds

Birds of the World: The Art of Elizabeth Gould is a new book documenting the work of early 19th century naturalist artist Elizabeth Gould.

Artist and illustrator Elizabeth Gould is finally given the recognition she deserves in this gorgeous volume that includes hundreds of her stunning and scientifically precise illustrations of birds from nearly every continent.

For all of her short life, Elizabeth Gould’s artistic career was appreciated through the lens of her husband, ornithologist John Gould, with whom she embarked on a series of ambitious projects to document and illustrate the birds of the world. Elizabeth played a crucial role in her husband’s lavish publications, creating beautifully detailed and historically significant accurate illustrations of over six hundred birds -many of which were new to science. However, Elizabeth’s role was not always fully credited and, following her tragic death aged only thirty-seven, her efforts and talent were nearly forgotten.

Birds of the World: The Art of Elizabeth Gould is available for pre-order from Amazon or Bookshop.org and comes out on November 7. (via colossal)

Trailer for Errol Morris’s The Pigeon Tunnel

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2023

Oh yay, I had been wondering just the other day what Errol Morris has been up to and it turns out to be a project with Apple TV+ called The Pigeon Tunnel, which is billed as the final interview with espionage novelist John le CarrΓ© (born David Cornwell).

It’s terribly difficult to recruit for a secret service. You’re looking for somebody who’s a bit bad, but at the same time, loyal. There’s a type. And I fit it perfectly.

The movie has the same title and covers some of the same ground as le CarrΓ©’s 2016 memoir, probably with more of an emphasis on Morris’s general obsession with what constitutes truth. More info on the film from the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie is premiering on Sept 11:

Cornwell once worked for the British spy agencies MI5 and MI6. He sparingly gave interviews, but accepted Morris’ invitation because he saw it “as something definitive.” He had already begun a process of opening up in his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life.

Crucial to the narrative is the author’s relationship to his father Ronnie, an inveterate gambler and con artist. Cornwell’s mother disappeared when he was five, so his main frame of reference was the world of his father, who was endlessly on the run from the mob or the police. The title The Pigeon Tunnel comes from Cornwell’s experience as a child going to Monte Carlo with Ronnie. Imprinted on his memory was a shooting range on the top of a cliff. Beneath the grass was a tunnel from which trapped pigeons were ejected over the sea as targets.

The Pigeon Tunnel will be out on Apple TV+ on Oct 20, 2023.

Trump’s Prosecutions Are About Repairing Our Social Norms

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2023

From Dell Cameron and Andrew Couts in Wired, Trump’s Prosecution Is America’s Last Hope:

The Trump administration’s ever-broadening palette of ethics violations caused Americans to realize, perhaps for the first time on a national scale, that truly there are few if any laws against some of the most basic forms of corruption; that, instead, conventions and norms β€” an honor system, essentially β€” is all that stand between presidents and the gross abuse of their power.

This is a good, short piece, riffing off of the 2018 book by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die. The Republicans, Trump, the Supreme Court, billionaires, corporations, and corporate shareholders are using America’s legal system to substantially weaken our democracy. It’s not a new thing for the powerful to place themselves above the law, but the pace and openness with which it’s happening right now is alarming.

Oppenheimer: More Science and More Heist Please

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2023

Craig Mod has my favorite take to date on Oppenheimer: that it should have been more like Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb:

My ideal version of this film would have begun in the 1900s or ’10s, with flashes of Relativity and then the steps of Quantum Mechanics with Planck, Bohr, and Heisenberg. Quantum tunneling with Gamow and Gurney. The nuclear shell model with Maria Goeppert Mayer and J. Hans D. Jensen. Chadwick’s discovery of the neutron. Anderson’s positron unveiling. Hold the camera longer on Lawrence and his cyclotron. What’s going on there? (I mean, ya got Josh Hartnett’s pretty head, plaster it up!) Shoot in high-grade mega-IMAX-bokeh the oddly simple experimental setups, the beakers, the blips, the radiation tick-tick-ticks, the iterations, the step-by-step expansion of understanding the fabric of everything around us. Give us an hour of this, this arguably greatest moment of human insight. You can still call the film Oppenheimer. Let the man loom, weave him between it all as he makes his way through Europe, sets up at Berkeley, is selected to lead Los Alamos. Ramp up the Nazi threat. Show the diaspora of brilliance more clearly. Believe the audience is willing to sit through more than just “Is it a wave … or is it particle?” Oh! There is so much excitement, so much incredible science to be mined, and Nolan mined so little.

Mod and I both share a love for that masterpiece of a book and I would watch the hell out of an 10-part HBO series (in the vein of Chernobyl) based on it, American Prometheus, and John Hersey’s Hiroshima.

Always Worth a Look: the AIGA’s Best Book Covers of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2023

You know me; I love a good book cover. The AIGA’s annual roundup of the best designed books and covers is usually aces and the results of the 2022 competition (announced at the beginning of July 2023) is no exception. Here are a few I picked out that I didn’t feature in The Best Book Covers of 2022 back in December.

book cover for Butts: A Backstory

book cover for Sound Within Sound: Radical Composers of the Twentieth Century

book cover for Sabit Fikir

book cover for No hay nadie en casa

Uh, I guess I’m really into orange today? Anyway, these covers are from:

Butts: A Backstory by Heather Radke.
Sound Within Sound: Radical Composers of the Twentieth Century by Kate Molleson.
Sabit Fikir by Paul ValΓ©ry.
No hay nadie en casa by Isabel DΓ­az AlanΓ­s.

My Recent Media Diet, Barbenheimer Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2023

Hey folks. I’m trying to get into the habit of doing these media diet posts more frequently than every six months so they’re actually, you know, somewhat relevant. Here’s what I’ve been watching, reading, listening to, and experiencing over the last two months.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. One of the most visually stunning movies I’ve ever seen. A worthy sequel to the first film. (A)

On Being with Krista Tippett: Isabel Wilkerson. I will take any opportunity to listen to Isabel Wilkerson talk about her work. (A)

Deep Space Archives. Been listening to this album by A.L.I.S.O.N on heavy rotation while working recently. (A-)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Bulter. Bleak and powerful, science fiction at its finest. (A)

Asteroid City. I liked Wes Anderson’s latest effort quite a bit. Not quite as much as The French Dispatch but more than many other folks. (A-)

Dunkirk. Rewatched for the 5th time. For my money, this is Nolan’s best movie. (A+)

Beef. I wanted to like this but I only lasted two episodes. Not for me, YMMV. (C)

Antidepressants. It took a bit to home in on the right one, but even my relatively low dose has helped me out of a particularly low point over the last few months. (A)

The Diplomat (season one). Burned through this one in just a few days β€” an entertaining political thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (B+)

Ooni Volt 12. Ooni was kind enough to send me this electric pizza oven to test out, so take this with a grain of salt, but I’ve been having a lot of fun making no-fuss pizza. Need to work on my dough game tho. (A-)

Silo. This hooked me right away and didn’t let go, although it got a little bit ridiculous in places. I’m eager to see where things go in season two. (B+)

Interstellar. Watched this with the kids and we all enjoyed it. The musical score does a lot of heavy lifting in all of Nolan’s films but in this one especially. (A-)

The Age of Pleasure. My only complaint about this album from Janelle MonΓ‘e is that it’s too short. (A-)

Barr Hill Gin & Tonic. The best canned cocktail I’ve had. And it’s turned me into a G&T fan. (A)

VanMoof S3. *sigh* Figures that I finally pull the trigger on getting an e-bike and the company that produces it files for bankruptcy. No matter: this thing is fun as hell and has flattened all the hills out around here. (A)

Átta. You always know what you’re going to get with Sigur RΓ³s: atmospheric, ambient, abundant crescendos, ethereal vocals. (B+)

Air. Ben Affleck has a bit of a mixed record as a director, but this Air Jordan origin story is really solid and entertaining. Viola Davis is great as Michael Jordan’s mother Deloris. (A-)

The Bear (season two). There are aspects of The Bear that I don’t like (the intensity seems forced sometimes, almost cheesy) but the highs are pretty high. Forks was a fantastic episode. More Sydney and Ayo Edebiri in season three please. (A-)

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Solid Indy adventure and I love Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the sidekick/partner. I know some folks didn’t like the climax but seeing Jones get what he’s always wanted was satisfying. (B+)

Rebranding beloved brands. Max? X? No. So dumb. (F)

65. Oh dear. Adam Driver needs to choose his projects more wisely. Interesting premise but the rest was pretty lifeless. (C+)

Pizzeria Ida. The pizza is expensive (esp for Vermont), the ingredients top-notch, and the service rude (if you believe the reviews). We had a great time and this is probably the best pizza you can get in VT; it wouldn’t be out of place in NYC. (A)

Oppenheimer. Epic. Almost overwhelming at times. Don’t see this on anything but a big screen if you can help it. Perhaps not Nolan’s best but it still packs a wallop. (A-)

Barbie. I enjoyed this very much but found it uneven in spots. And no more Will Ferrell please. But it was great seeing people dressed up for the occasion β€” Barbenheimer felt like the first time since before the pandemic that you could feel the buzz in the audience, an excitement for what we were about to experience together. (B+)

Currently I’m reading American Prometheus (on which Oppenheimer is based) and Wool (on which Silo is based), so I’ll have those reviews for you next time hopefully. I don’t have a TV series going right now and nothing’s really catching my eye. Maybe I’ll dig into season three of (the underrated) The Great β€” I’ve heard it’s back to top form after a s02 dip.

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Barack Obama’s 2023 Summer Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2023

a list of the book Barack Obama is reading this summer, reproduced in full below

It’s always fun to see what the former President is planning on reading over the summer. Here’s his full list:

I’ve read The Wager (so good!) and have been wanting to dig into Matthew Desmond’s book but most of the rest of these are new to me.

Right now, I’m reading Hugh Howey’s Wool (after inhaling the first season of Silo) and American Prometheus (after seeing Oppenheimer last night) β€” I’m sensing a pattern here…

The Prescience of Octavia Butler

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2023

I just finished reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (so good!) and while doing a little customary post-read research on it, I discovered that Butler wrote a sequel in 1998 called Parable of the Talents and, uh… (from Wikipedia):

The novel is set against the backdrop of a dystopian United States that has come under the grip of a Christian fundamentalist denomination called “Christian America” led by President Andrew Steele Jarret. Seeking to restore American power and prestige, and using the slogan “Make America Great Again”, Jarret embarks on a crusade to cleanse America of non-Christian faiths. Slavery has resurfaced with advanced “shock collars” being used to control slaves. Virtual reality headsets known as “Dreamasks” are also popular since they enable wearers to escape their harsh reality.

Well, our present reality certainly checks a remarkable number of those boxes, including an absolute bullseye on “Make America Great Again”.

Duck & Cover: Ukrainian Book Fair Poster

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2023

poster for a Ukrainian book fair that shows people using a book to protect themselves from Russian bombs and troops

This is a poster for the 2023 International Book Arsenal Festival which recently took place in Kyiv, Ukraine. The poster was designed by Art Studio Agrafka from an illustration they originally did for the cover of Linkiesta Magazine.

A book festival. During a war. In a city under martial law. While schools and legislatures here in the US ban books about Black and LGBTQ+ experiences based on bad faith complaints of tiny fundamentalist parent groups. Tell me, who’s doing democracy better right now? (via @gray)

Patricia Lockwood on David Foster Wallace

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2023

“it’s what everyone wants in the year 2023: 8000 words on david foster wallace” ⬅️ That’s how Patricia Lockwood shared her piece about the complicated legacy of David Foster Wallace on Bluesky. Turns out, it is what we want; this piece is brilliant. But it’s also unexplainable, so I’ll just post these three snippets and let you work out whether you want to read the rest of it or not.

As I read, I thought Wallace must have been taken by something very simple, the smallest sensual fact: that as an IRS worker you are issued a new social security number, in essence a new identity, a chance to start over. The old number, the old life, ‘simply disappeared, from an identification standpoint’. A whole novel could take flesh from that fact, one about the idea of bureaucratic identity as opposed to individual identity: memories, mothers, sideburn phases, the way we see ourselves. That we are, at our core, a person; in the bed of our family, a name; and out in the world, a number. Of course, as so often with Wallace, on actual investigation this turns out not to be true. The fact withdraws itself, and only the epiphany remains.

—-

Infinite Jest β€” man, I don’t know. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had the rhetorical move not so often been ‘and then this little kid had a claw.’ It’s like watching someone undergo the latest possible puberty. It genuinely reads like he has not had sex. You feel not only that he shouldn’t be allowed to take drugs, but that he shouldn’t be allowed to drink Diet Pepsi. The highlights remain highlights: the weed addict Ken Erdedy pacing back and forth while reciting ‘where was the woman who said she’d come,’ the game of Eschaton, the passages where Mario is almost the protagonist, the beatified ex-thug Don Gately being slowly swept out to sea over the course of a hundred pages. Every so often Wallace offers you a set piece that’s as fully articulated as a Body Worlds exhibit β€” laminated muscles pinwheeling through the air, beads of plasticine sweat flying β€” or pauses the action to deliver a weather bulletin that approaches the sublime. The rest is Don DeLillo played at chipmunk speed. You feel it in your hands: too heavy and too light, too much and not enough. In the end, it is a book about the infiltration of our attention that was also at the mercy of itself, helpless not to watch itself, hopelessly entertained.

—-

Time will tell who is an inventor and who is a tech disruptor. There was ambient pressure, for a while, to say that Wallace created a new kind of fiction. I’m not sure that’s true β€” the new style is always the last gasp of an old teacher, and Infinite Jest in particular is like a house party to which he’s invited all of his professors. Thomas Pynchon is in the kitchen, opening a can of expired tuna with his teeth. William Gaddis is in the den, reading ticker-tape off a version of C-Span that watches the senators go to the bathroom. Don DeLillo is three houses down, having sex with his wife. I’m not going to begrudge him a wish that the world was full of these wonderful windy oddballs, who were all entrusted with the same task: to encompass, reflect, refract. But David, some of these guys had the competitive advantage of having been personally experimented on by the US military. You’re not going to catch them. Calm down.

Lockwood wrote a book called No One Is Talking About This; I read it last year and excerpted some of my favorite quotes from it.

The Full Trailer for Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2023

Oh boy. I thought the teaser trailer was good, but the full trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon just dropped and I am. So. Excited. To. SEE. THIS!

At the turn of the 20th century, oil brought a fortune to the Osage Nation, who became some of the richest people in the world overnight. The wealth of these Native Americans immediately attracted white interlopers, who manipulated, extorted, and stole as much Osage money as they could before resorting to murder.

Once again, it’s based on David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, which I highly recommend. Grann + Scorsese appears to be a potent combination β€” the latter is already signed on to adapt Grann’s latest bestseller, The Wager.

The 40 Greatest Tech Books of All Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2023

books covers for Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs and The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

The Verge has published a list of the 40 best nonfiction books about “tech” (which relates to the industry centered around Silicon Valley & the internet and not technology in general). I was pleased to see Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire Evans and Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs on there, as well as Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman and Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. I’m baffled that Tracy Kidder’s amazing The Soul of a New Machine didn’t make the top 5 or even 10.

But reading through the rest of the list, it occurred to me that I don’t really read tech books β€” and if I did, I didn’t get a whole lot from them. When I was younger and trying to understand the industry and momentous period I was participating in, I generally looked to books outside of tech as guides. I read things like How Buildings Learn by Steward Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, Chaos by James Gleick, The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander, and Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

Anyway, back to the list β€” it seems incomplete in a way that I can’t quite articulate. I would have liked to have seen Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet on there. What else? I would like to hear about your favorite books about tech (or non-tech books that are sneakily about tech anyway) or what you think might be missing from the list. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Update: Some great additional suggestions from the comments:

As many commenters noted, it’s hard to see how Hackers was left off this list. And My Tiny Life…it anticipated so much about how social media was going to function.

Chris Ware Does Candide

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2023

extremely detailed comic cover of Voltaire's Candide by Chris Ware

This is apparently extremely old news (like almost 20 years old), but I ran across the cover that Chris Ware did for Voltaire’s Candide in the bookstore yesterday and it still slaps.

P.S. The book covers tag is pretty good if you want to get distracted/inspired by fantastic design for 30 minutes.