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kottke.org posts about books

The Availability of Guns and Books in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 24, 2023

political cartoon in which a child reaches past several easily accessible firearms to a too-high bookshelf

Image by Cuban cartoonist Osvaldo Gutierrez Gomez. The cartoon is a few years old, but with the increased scrutiny of and legal repercussions feared by school librarians and the never-ending gun violence in our communities, it’s more relevant than ever. (via @irwin)

How to Revive Barnes & Noble: Get a CEO Who Loves Books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 02, 2023

Ted Gioia is one of the best music writers and critics around but has proved an astute cultural (and even business!) critic as well. In a piece for his excellent The Honest Broker newsletter, Gioia writes about the recent turnaround of Barnes & Noble, which he attributes to the company’s new CEO and his love of books. James Daunt, who took the helm of B&N in late 2019, previously saved UK bookshop chain Waterstones, in part by refusing to take promotional money from publishers:

Daunt refused to play this game. He wanted to put the best books in the window. He wanted to display the most exciting books by the front door. Even more amazing, he let the people working in the stores make these decisions.

This is James Daunt’s super power: He loves books.

“Staff are now in control of their own shops,” he explained. “Hopefully they’re enjoying their work more. They’re creating something very different in each store.”

This crazy strategy proved so successful at Waterstones, that returns fell almost to zero — 97% of the books placed on the shelves were purchased by customers. That’s an amazing figure in the book business.

On the basis of this success, Daunt was put in charge of Barnes & Noble in August 2019. But could he really bring that dinosaur, on the brink of extinction, back to life?

The boldface above is mine and it matches up with the bold text from Gioia’s conclusion:

Of course, there’s a lesson here. And it’s not just for books. You could also apply it to music, newspapers, films, and a host of other media.

But I almost hate to say it, because the lesson is so simple.

If you want to sell music, you must love those songs. If you want to succeed in journalism, you must love those newspapers. If you want to succeed in movies, you must love the cinema.

One of the reasons I decided to take a sabbatical last year is that I was not loving what I was doing here and it was starting to show. Oh, I’ve been doing this long enough that I know how to paper over the cracks. Also, I’m stubborn and will keep at something even if I’m not enjoying it, but the wheels were starting to come off of the wagon. Now that I’m back, I’m trying to figure out which bits of this weird job I’m really into and redirect my efforts there. Gioia’s piece is a good reminder to follow the love and the rest will follow.

Some Wonderful Things From 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2022

looking out over the Atlantic Ocean

As 2022 recedes into the rearview mirror, I took some time to go back over my media diet posts to pick out some books, movies, TV shows, and experiences from the past year that were especially wonderful. Enjoy.

Everything Everywhere All at Once. I’ve seen this a few times now and I still don’t know how the filmmakers pulled this off. A chaotic martial arts action comedy romance multiverse movie with heart? It is a miracle of a film. Definitely my favorite movie of the year and probably in the past 2-3 years.

Glass Onion. I don’t know, maybe this shouldn’t be here because I just watched it the other day, but whatever. This movie is fun. Janelle Monáe and Blanc’s bathing costume were the highlights for me.

Fortnite. The one thing I worked on more than almost anything else during my sabbatical was my Fortnite skills. My kids play and I wanted to join them, so that we could have an activity to do as a family, one that was on their turf and not mine. I’m still not great at it, but I’m more than competent now and it’s been a great addition to our routine.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Seeing this painting in person is a whole other deal. I think I stood in front of it for a good 10 minutes and then circled back later for another look.

Station Eleven. You can see the ending of this coming a mile away and it still caught me by surprise when it happened. I didn’t think I wanted to watch a TV show about a flu pandemic causing the end of civilization, but it was actually perfect.

Severance. It’s comforting to know that TV shows on these massive streaming services can still be weird. I didn’t love this as much as many other people did, Severance did keep popping up in my thoughts in the months after I watched it.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. If you’ve ever worked on a creative project with someone and that collaborative frisson felt like the highlight of your life, this book might be right up your alley.

Tár. Cate Blanchett is just ridiculously good in this.

My Brilliant Friend. The most underrated show on television? This was so much better than a lot of other shows I kept seeing praised but not a lot of people seem to be talking about it.

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

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

Her Place. This Philly spot is getting a ton of attention and end-of-the-year kudos; it’s well-deserved. The food is great but it’s the casual family-style dinner-party vibe that really makes this place special. People will try to copy this concept — it’ll be interesting to see if they can do it as well.

The Lost Daughter. Based on an Elena Ferrante book and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, the acting and cinematography are the central strengths of this film. Olivia Colman & Jessie Buckley shine as an ambivalent mother at two different points in her life and the tight shots keep them smoldering the entire time.

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman. Correctly lauded as a masterpiece.

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

Matrix by Lauren Groff. I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what I liked so much about this book, but it has something to do with its surprising entrepreneurial bent, its feminist startup vibe. Groff’s Marie de France is one of my favorite characters of the year.

Bar Kismet. The type of place where you instantly feel like a regular. And with the ever-changing food and cocktail menus, you’ll want to become one.

Schitt’s Creek. I was worried that I wouldn’t jibe with the show’s humor — nothing worse than a comedy that isn’t funny — but it delivered so many laugh-out-loud moments that I lost count. The show really hits its stride after the first season or two when it makes you start caring about what happens to these annoying weirdos. I would have watched 10 seasons of this.

The Bear. Again, I didn’t love this as much as some others did, but my thoughts kept returning to it often.

Saap. When someone says a restaurant in Vermont is “good”, you always have to ask: “Is it actually good or just Vermont good?” Saap is great, period.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. I don’t know how to think about the kind of stories that Chiang writes — they are simple and complex and deep and fantastical and familiar all at the same time. It’s the perfect kind of sci-fi for me.

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

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

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. All nonfiction books should aspire to be this compelling.

Mercado Little Spain. José Andrés’ Spanish version of Eataly. I’ve only been there a couple of times, but omg the food. The pan con tomate is the simplest imaginable dish — bread, tomato, olive oil, garlic, salt — but I could easily eat it every day.

Photo of the Atlantic Ocean taken by me on my trip to Portugal this summer.

Talking Trash with George Eliot

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2022

I read (and loved) Middlemarch this summer and was delighted to find this surprisingly modern usage of the concept of trash-talk about halfway through the book (boldface mine):

But in this doubtful stage of Lydgate’s introduction he was helped by what we mortals rashly call good fortune. I suppose no doctor ever came newly to a place without making cures that surprised somebody — cures which may be called fortune’s testimonials, and deserve as much credit as the written or printed kind. Various patients got well while Lydgate was attending them, some even of dangerous illnesses; and it was remarked that the new doctor with his new ways had at least the merit of bringing people back from the brink of death. The trash talked on such occasions was the more vexatious to Lydgate, because it gave precisely the sort of prestige which an incompetent and unscrupulous man would desire, and was sure to be imputed to him by the simmering dislike of the other medical men as an encouragement on his own part of ignorant puffing. But even his proud outspokenness was checked by the discernment that it was as useless to fight against the interpretations of ignorance as to whip the fog; and “good fortune” insisted on using those interpretations.

Curious if that term had been in use before George Eliot wrote Middlemarch in the early 1870s, I found Mark Liberman’s post on Language Log, where the earliest citation of the “abuse of opponents” sense of the phrase seems to be 1933. I will leave it to the etymological experts whether what Eliot meant by the phrase can be linked to the competitive speech of Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, and other athletes.

The Trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2022

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus (Kindle), Christopher Nolan’s newest film follows theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer as he leads the Manhattan Project to build the world’s first atomic weapon during World War II. If this film is just 50% slow-motion IMAX-scale fluid dynamics simulations, I don’t think I’d be that mad.

I’m curious to see if this film has one of Nolan’s signature time tricks — aside from the Batmen, they almost all do.

Oppenheimer comes out in the US on July 23, 2023.

P.S. If you want to read an excellent book about the Manhattan Project, you can’t do better than The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes — one of my all-time favorite books.

The Best Book Covers of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2022

cover for The Rabbit Hutch

cover for Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

cover for No Land in Sight

cover for Constructing a Nervous System

cover for Shit Cassandra Saw

cover for The Status Game

cover for Kiki Man Ray

cover for Cold Enough for Snow

cover for Pure Colour

The book cover is one of my all-time favorite design objects and a big part of the reason I love going to bookstores is to visually feast on new covers. I don’t keep an explicit list of my favorites from those trips, but there are definitely those that stick in my mind, covers that I’ll instantly recognize from across the room on subsequent trips.

I’ve spent the last few days rediscovering some of them (and finding new ones) on the end-of-the-year lists of the best covers of 2022. You can find some of 2022’s most wonderfully designed covers above; from top to bottom:

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, designed by Linda Huang.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, designed by John Gall.
No Land in Sight by Charles Simic, designed by John Gall.
Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson, designed by Kelly Blair.
Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby, designed by Lydia Ortiz.
The Status Game by Will Storr, designed by Steve Leard.
Kiki Man Ray by Mark Braude, designed by Jaya Miceli.
Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au, designed by Janet Hansen.
Pure Colour by Sheila Heti, designed by Na Kim.

I’ve linked to each designer’s website above; I urge you to click through and check out some of their other work. You can find many more wonderful covers in the following places: The 103 Best Book Covers of 2022 (Literary Hub), The Best Book Covers of 2022 (NY Times), The Best Book Covers of 2022 (Fast Company), and Best Book Covers 2022 (Chicago Public Library). Literary Hub’s list is particularly good because the best covers are selected by other cover designers and presented with their commentary.

See also The Best Books of 2022 and my lists from past years: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

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

The Best Books of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2022

Oh man, I read so many books during my time away from the site this summer — but barely made a dent in the towering pile of books I desired to read.1 Even so, I am excited to dig into the various end-of-year book lists to see what everyone else has been reading — and what I might add to my own pile for 2023.

As I’ve done for several years now, I went through many of these best-of lists and compiled a list of reads that appeared often or just looked interesting. And since I’m not doing a gift guide this year (sorry!), I will just note that great books make great holiday gifts. So here they are: (some of) the best books of the year.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (ebook) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

Sea of Tranquility

Sea of Tranquility (ebook) by Emily St. John Mandel.

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time travel, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

The Wok

The Wok: Recipes and Techniques (ebook) by J. Kenji López-Alt.

J. Kenji López-Alt’s debut cookbook, The Food Lab, revolutionized home cooking, selling more than half a million copies with its science-based approach to everyday foods. And for fast, fresh cooking for his family, there’s one pan López-Alt reaches for more than any other: the wok.

Whether stir-frying, deep frying, steaming, simmering, or braising, the wok is the most versatile pan in the kitchen. Once you master the basics — the mechanics of a stir-fry, and how to get smoky wok hei at home — you’re ready to cook home-style and restaurant-style dishes from across Asia and the United States, including Kung Pao Chicken, Pad Thai, and San Francisco-Style Garlic Noodles. López-Alt also breaks down the science behind beloved Beef Chow Fun, fried rice, dumplings, tempura vegetables or seafood, and dashi-simmered dishes.

The Candy House

The Candy House (ebook) by Jennifer Egan.

The Candy House opens with the staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton, whose company, Mandala, is so successful that he is “one of those tech demi-gods with whom we’re all on a first name basis.” Bix is forty, with four kids, restless, and desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, “Own Your Unconscious” — which allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share your memories in exchange for access to the memories of others — has seduced multitudes.

Dilla Time

Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm (ebook) by Dan Charnas.

He wasn’t known to mainstream audiences, even though he worked with renowned acts like D’Angelo and Erykah Badu and influenced the music of superstars like Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. He died at the age of thirty-two, and in his lifetime he never had a pop hit. Yet since his death, J Dilla has become a demigod: revered by jazz musicians and rap icons from Robert Glasper to Kendrick Lamar; memorialized in symphonies and taught at universities. And at the core of this adulation is innovation: a new kind of musical time-feel that he created on a drum machine, but one that changed the way “traditional” musicians play.

Either/Or

Either/Or (ebook) by Elif Batuman.

Unfolding with the propulsive logic and intensity of youth, Either/Or is a landmark novel by one of our most brilliant writers. Hilarious, revelatory, and unforgettable, its gripping narrative will confront you with searching questions that persist long after the last page.

The Nineties

The Nineties (ebook) by Chuck Klosterman.

It was long ago, but not as long as it seems: The Berlin Wall fell and the Twin Towers collapsed. In between, one presidential election was allegedly decided by Ross Perot while another was plausibly decided by Ralph Nader. In the beginning, almost every name and address was listed in a phone book, and everyone answered their landlines because you didn’t know who it was. By the end, exposing someone’s address was an act of emotional violence, and nobody picked up their new cell phone if they didn’t know who it was. The 90s brought about a revolution in the human condition we’re still groping to understand. Happily, Chuck Klosterman is more than up to the job.

An Immense World

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (ebook) by Ed Yong.

In An Immense World, Ed Yong coaxes us beyond the confines of our own senses, allowing us to perceive the skeins of scent, waves of electromagnetism, and pulses of pressure that surround us. We encounter beetles that are drawn to fires, turtles that can track the Earth’s magnetic fields, fish that fill rivers with electrical messages, and even humans who wield sonar like bats. We discover that a crocodile’s scaly face is as sensitive as a lover’s fingertips, that the eyes of a giant squid evolved to see sparkling whales, that plants thrum with the inaudible songs of courting bugs, and that even simple scallops have complex vision. We learn what bees see in flowers, what songbirds hear in their tunes, and what dogs smell on the street. We listen to stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, while looking ahead at the many mysteries that remain unsolved.

Checkout 19

Checkout 19 (ebook) by Claire-Louise Bennett.

In a working-class town in a county west of London, a schoolgirl scribbles stories in the back pages of her exercise book, intoxicated by the first sparks of her imagination. As she grows, everything and everyone she encounters become fuel for a burning talent. The large Russian man in the ancient maroon car who careens around the grocery store where she works as a checkout clerk, and slips her a copy of Beyond Good and Evil. The growing heaps of other books in which she loses — and finds — herself. Even the derailing of a friendship, in a devastating violation. The thrill of learning to conjure characters and scenarios in her head is matched by the exhilaration of forging her own way in the world, the two kinds of ingenuity kindling to a brilliant conflagration.

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams (ebook) by Stacy Schiff.

In The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, Schiff brings her masterful skills to Adams’s improbable life, illuminating his transformation from aimless son of a well-off family to tireless, beguiling radical who mobilized the colonies. Arresting, original, and deliriously dramatic, this is a long-overdue chapter in the history of our nation.

The Song of the Cell

The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human (ebook) by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

In The Song of the Cell, Mukherjee tells the story of how scientists discovered cells, began to understand them, and are now using that knowledge to create new humans. He seduces you with writing so vivid, lucid, and suspenseful that complex science becomes thrilling. Told in six parts, laced with Mukherjee’s own experience as a researcher, a doctor, and a prolific reader, The Song of the Cell is both panoramic and intimate — a masterpiece.

Strangers to Ourselves

Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us (ebook) by Rachel Aviv.

In Strangers to Ourselves, a powerful and gripping debut, Rachel Aviv raises fundamental questions about how we understand ourselves in periods of crisis and distress. Drawing on deep, original reporting as well as unpublished journals and memoirs, Aviv writes about people who have come up against the limits of psychiatric explanations for who they are. She follows an Indian woman, celebrated as a saint, who lives in healing temples in Kerala; an incarcerated mother vying for her children’s forgiveness after recovering from psychosis; a man who devotes his life to seeking revenge upon his psychoanalysts; and an affluent young woman who, after a decade of defining herself through her diagnosis, decides to go off her meds because she doesn’t know who she is without them. Animated by a profound sense of empathy, Aviv’s exploration is refracted through her own account of living in a hospital ward at the age of six and meeting a fellow patient with whom her life runs parallel — until it no longer does.

The Book of Goose

The Book of Goose (ebook) by Yiyun Li.

A magnificent, beguiling tale winding from the postwar rural provinces to Paris, from an English boarding school to the quiet Pennsylvania home where a woman can live without her past, The Book of Goose is a story of disturbing intimacy and obsession, of exploitation and strength of will, by the celebrated author Yiyun Li.

The World We Make

The World We Make (ebook) by N.K. Jemisin.

All is not well in the city that never sleeps. Even though the avatars of New York City have temporarily managed to stop the Woman in White from invading — and destroying the entire universe in the process — the mysterious capital “E” Enemy has more subtle powers at her disposal. A new candidate for mayor wielding the populist rhetoric of gentrification, xenophobia, and “law and order” may have what it takes to change the very nature of New York itself and take it down from the inside.

The Last White Man

The Last White Man (ebook) by Mohsin Hamid.

One morning, a man wakes up to find himself transformed. Overnight, Anders’s skin has turned dark, and the reflection in the mirror seems a stranger to him. At first he shares his secret only with Oona, an old friend turned new lover. Soon, reports of similar events begin to surface. Across the land, people are awakening in new incarnations, uncertain how their neighbors, friends, and family will greet them. Some see the transformations as the long-dreaded overturning of the established order that must be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders’s father and Oona’s mother, a sense of profound loss and unease wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance at a kind of rebirth — an opportunity to see ourselves, face to face, anew.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (ebook) by Kate Beaton.

Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark! A Vagrant, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beaton, specifically Mabou, a tight-knit seaside community where the lobster is as abundant as beaches, fiddles, and Gaelic folk songs. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, Katie heads out west to take advantage of Alberta’s oil rush — part of the long tradition of East Coasters who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can’t find it in the homeland they love so much. Katie encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands, where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet is never discussed.

I was particularly excited to see books by Stacy Schiff and Siddhartha Mukherjee in several lists. I read Schiff’s Cleopatra and Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies right around the same time and I remember being blown away by both of them. I recommend those two books to others all the time.

Here are some of the lists I used to assemble this collection:

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

  1. The Japanese have a word for the bedside stack of books that pile up unread: tsundoku.

The Climate Book by Greta Thunberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2022

cover of The Climate Book by Greta Thunberg

Activist Greta Thunberg is coming out with a new book about the climate crisis called The Climate Book: The Facts and the Solutions (kindle).

In The Climate Book, Greta Thunberg has gathered the wisdom of over one hundred experts — geophysicists, oceanographers and meteorologists; engineers, economists and mathematicians; historians, philosophers and indigenous leaders — to equip us all with the knowledge we need to combat climate disaster. Alongside them, she shares her own stories of demonstrating and uncovering greenwashing around the world, revealing how much we have been kept in the dark. This is one of our biggest challenges, she shows, but also our greatest source of hope. Once we are given the full picture, how can we not act? And if a schoolchild’s strike could ignite a global protest, what could we do collectively if we tried?

The book is already out in Europe (I actually included the European cover above because, unsurprisingly, it’s better than the US cover), but will be released in the US in February.

My Sabbatical Media Diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Notice. Fun but forgettable. (B)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lightyear. Solid Pixar effort. (B+)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

My Recent Media Diet, Spring 2022 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curious Afterlife of Pop Stars

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Massive New Book Collection Offers Unprecedented Views of the Sistine Chapel

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2022

page spreads from a book featuring photos of the Sistine Chapel

page spreads from a book featuring photos of the Sistine Chapel

page spreads from a book featuring photos of the Sistine Chapel

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

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

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

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

Beautiful News: Positive Trends, Uplifting Stats, Creative Solutions

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2022

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

charts showing the power and potential of geothermal energy

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

The Rembrandt Book Bracelet

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2022

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

a bracelet made out of tiny Rembrandt drawings of hands

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

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

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

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

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

Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2022

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

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

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

book cover for Life On Delay

See also Austin Kleon’s Our Stutter:

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

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

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

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

We listen with more love.

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

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

Giving Is a Form of Attention

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah Gadsby Talks About Her Autism Diagnosis

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2022

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

(via kyle westaway)

Slime Molds!

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2022

macro photograph of slime molds

macro photograph of slime molds

macro photograph of slime molds

macro photograph of slime molds

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

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

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

The Collected Photography of Roger Deakins

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2022

a dog jumps off of a wall onto the beach

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

an empty chair next to a James Bond sportscar

a seagull faces off with a wooden carving of a bear

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

All the F*cking Books You See at the Bookstore

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2022

No One Talking Lockwood

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

Page 4:

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

Page 4:

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

Page 7:

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

Page 7:

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

Page 9:

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

Page 13:

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

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

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

Page 19:

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

Page 23:

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

Page 24:

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

Page 31:

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

Page 33:

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

Page 34:

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

Page 36:

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

Page 42:

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

Page 44 (see also Alternate Brand Slogans):

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

Page 47:

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

Page 51:

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

Page 52:

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

Page 54:

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

Page 55:

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

Page 58:

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

Page 60:

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

Page 65:

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

Page 70:

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

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

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

Page 73:

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

Page 76:

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

Page 86:

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

Page 90:

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

Page 95:

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

Page 96:

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

Page 118:

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

Page 127:

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

Page 133 (re: abortion):

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

Page 136:

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

Page 137:

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

Page 143:

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

Page 153:

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

Page 153:

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

Page 169:

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

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

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

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

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2022

painting by J.R.R. Tolkien of Hobbiton

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

calligraphy by J.R.R. Tolkien

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanctions Would Bite Russia Harder with Pro-Transparency Finance Reforms

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2022

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

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

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

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

The Helpers: Profiles from the Front Lines of the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

My Brilliant Friend, Season Three

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2022

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

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

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

A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2022

book cover of Allow Me To Retort by Elie Mystal

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

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

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

The Leaked Recipes Cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2022

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

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

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

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