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The Greatest Films of All Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2022

Since 1952, Sight and Sound has been asking critics and other folks in the film world what the greatest films of all time are. For decades, Citizen Kane was in the top slot and therefore occupied this seemingly unassailable position in western culture as the greatest film ever made. Then in 2012, Kane was unseated by Vertigo. This year, Sight and Sound polled more than 1600 academics, curators, critics, archivists, and programmers to determine the current list of The Greatest Films of All Time. Here’s the top 10:

1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
2. Vertigo
3. Citizen Kane
4. Tokyo Story
5. In the Mood for Love
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. Beau Travail
8. Mulholland Drive
9. Man with a Movie Camera
10. Singin’ in the Rain

I have to confess, I’d never heard of the top pick before today (which appears to be 3 hours and 21 minutes long and on HBO Max if you’re interested.). The most recent film that’s highest on the list is the excellent Portrait of a Lady on Fire, coming it at #30. (And boy some folks on social media are big mad about it!) A second poll was taken among directors and their top 10 was slightly different:

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. Citizen Kane
3. The Godfather
4. Tokyo Story
4. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
6. Vertigo
6. 8 1/2
8. Mirror
9. Persona
9. In the Mood for Love
9. Close-Up

Always Interesting: “52 Things I Learned in 2022”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2022

Something I look forward to at the end of each year is Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things I learned in 20221 because I know I’m about to read about a bunch of interesting things. As always, here are a few of my favorite items from the list:

6. Heavenbanning is a hypothetical way to moderate social networks. Instead of being thrown off the platform, bad actors have all their followers replaced with sycophantic AI models that constantly agree and praise them. Real humans never interact with them. [Asara Near]

13. Older travellers use airport toilets to hear flight announcements, because acoustics are much clearer. [Christopher DeWolf via Ben Terrett]

22. Applicants are 1.5% more likely to be granted asylum by a US judge the day after their city’s NFL team won. [Daniel L. Chen]

32. Before the industrial revolution, silver didn’t need to be polished, because there was less sulfur in the atmosphere (unless you lived near a volcano). [Michael Briggs]

52. During a French Navy exercise, a frigate was (virtually) destroyed despite radio silence. The (virtual) enemy was able to roughly locate the ship via an (real) active Snapchat account from one of the sailors. [Arthur Laudrain]

I did my own list of these last year and have been keeping sporadic track of interesting morsels I’ve come across this year, so hopefully I can pull a post together in the next few weeks. (thx, john)

  1. Ok, I do not specifically look forward to 2022’s specific list each year, but you know, unless you want to take the awkwardly long way ‘round, sometimes English makes you take the L. AKA, you know what I mean.

Kevin Kelly: 103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2022

On the occasion of his 70th birthday (happy birthday!), Kevin Kelly shares 103 bits of wisdom he wished he had known when he was younger. Here are a few of my favorites:

Cultivate 12 people who love you, because they are worth more than 12 million people who like you.

Anything you say before the word “but” does not count.

When you forgive others, they may not notice, but you will heal. Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.

Efficiency is highly overrated; Goofing off is highly underrated. Regularly scheduled sabbaths, sabbaticals, vacations, breaks, aimless walks and time off are essential for top performance of any kind. The best work ethic requires a good rest ethic.

If winning becomes too important in a game, change the rules to make it more fun. Changing rules can become the new game.

The best way to get a correct answer on the internet is to post an obviously wrong answer and wait for someone to correct you.

Don’t wait for the storm to pass; dance in the rain.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade. Miraculous things can be accomplished if you give it ten years. A long game will compound small gains to overcome even big mistakes.

A wise man said, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates. At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?” At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?” At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”

To rapidly reveal the true character of a person you just met, move them onto an abysmally slow internet connection. Observe.

Take note if you find yourself wondering “Where is my good knife? Or, where is my good pen?” That means you have bad ones. Get rid of those.

If you loan someone $20 and you never see them again because they are avoiding paying you back, that makes it worth $20.

Copying others is a good way to start. Copying yourself is a disappointing way to end.

The chief prevention against getting old is to remain astonished.

Ok that got out of hand…there’s a lot of good stuff on that list! I am definitely in receiving mode these days for wisdom.

Ten Ways to Confront the Climate Crisis Without Losing Hope

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2022

If we’re going to address the climate crisis, we need to fight despair and keep hope alive. Rebecca Solnit wrote a piece for The Guardian about 10 ways we can guard against our feelings of dread and fear.

2. Pay attention to what’s already happening

Another oft-heard complaint is “nobody is doing anything about this”. But this is said by people who are not looking at what so many others are doing so passionately and often effectively. The climate movement has grown in power, sophistication and inclusiveness, and has won many battles. I have been around long enough to remember when the movement against what was then called “global warming” was small and mild-mannered, preaching the gospel of Priuses and compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and mostly being ignored.

One of the victories of climate activism — and consequences of dire climate events — is that a lot more people are concerned about climate than they were even a few years years ago, from ordinary citizens to powerful politicians. The climate movement — which is really thousands of movements with thousands of campaigns around the world - has had enormous impact.

See also We Have the Tools to Fix the Climate. We Just Need to Use Them. (via life is so beautiful)

Toni Morrison’s Ten Steps Towards Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2022

In a convocation address delivered at Howard University in March 1995, Toni Morrison noted that before fascist movements arrive at a “final solution” (the euphemism used by Nazi leaders to refer to the mass murder of Jews), there are preceding steps that they use to advance their agenda. From an excerpt of that speech published in The Journal of Negro Education:

Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third. The move toward a final solution is not a jump. It takes one step, then another, then another.

Morrison then continued, listing the pathway to fascism in ten steps:

  1. Construct an internal enemy, as both focus and diversion.
  2. Isolate and demonize that enemy by unleashing and protecting the utterance of overt and coded name-calling and verbal abuse. Employ ad hominem attacks as legitimate charges against that enemy.
  3. Enlist and create sources and distributors of information who are willing to reinforce the demonizing process because it is profitable, because it grants power and because it works.
  4. Palisade all art forms; monitor, discredit or expel those that challenge or destabilize processes of demonization and deification.
  5. Subvert and malign all representatives of and sympathizers with this constructed enemy.
  6. Solicit, from among the enemy, collaborators who agree with and can sanitize the dispossession process.
  7. Pathologize the enemy in scholarly and popular mediums; recycle, for example, scientific racism and the myths of racial superiority in order to naturalize the pathology.
  8. Criminalize the enemy. Then prepare, budget for and rationalize the building of holding arenas for the enemy — especially its males and absolutely its children.
  9. Reward mindlessness and apathy with monumentalized entertainments and with little pleasures, tiny seductions, a few minutes on television, a few lines in the press, a little pseudo-success, the illusion of power and influence, a little fun, a little style, a little consequence.
  10. Maintain, at all costs, silence.

As I have said before, you can see many of these steps playing out right now in America, orchestrated by a revitalized and emboldened right-wing movement that has captured the Republican Party. Jason Stanley, a scholar of fascism, recently wrote of Morrison’s speech:

Morrison’s interest was not in fascist demagogues or fascist regimes. It was rather in “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems”. The procedures she described were methods to normalize such solutions, to “construct an internal enemy”, isolate, demonize and criminalize it and sympathizers to its ideology and their allies, and, using the media, provide the illusion of power and influence to one’s supporters.

Morrison saw, in the history of US racism, fascist practices — ones that could enable a fascist social and political movement in the United States.

Writing in the era of the “super-predator” myth (a Newsweek headline the next year read, “Superpredators: Should we cage the new breed of vicious kids?”), Morrison unflinchingly read fascism into the practices of US racism. Twenty-five years later, those “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems” are closer than ever to winning a multi-decade national fight.

See also Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism and Fighting Authoritarianism: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century. (via jason stanley)

A Video Countdown of the 25 Best Films of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2022

I look forward to this every year: David Ehrlich’s video countdown of the 25 best films of 2021. It’s like a trailer for an entire year’s worth of movies, lovingly constructed by a movie fan, critic, and editor, chock full of vivid imagery, memorable moments, and homages to great films of the past. I want to take the rest of the day off and just watch all of these…

The Best Book Covers of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

book cover of Outlawed by Anna North

book cover of Dead Souls by Sam Riviere

book cover of Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski

book cover of Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit

book cover of Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin

book cover of Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh

book cover of Nectarine by Chad Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

100 Ways to Slightly Improve Your Life Without Really Trying

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2022

From The Guardian, a list of 100 ways to slightly improve your life without really trying. Some notables:

12. Sharpen your knives.

15. Keep your children’s drawings and paintings. Put the best ones in frames.

25. Look closely.

27. If possible, take the stairs.

35. Eat salted butter (life’s too short for unsalted).

47. Take out your headphones when walking — listen to the world.

75. Keep your keys in the same place.

89. Politely decline invitations if you don’t want to go.

As usual, the last item on any such list should be “Don’t listen to any of this.”

52 Things I Learned in 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2022

For the last few years, I’ve been a fan of Tom Whitwell’s annual list of 52 things he learned during the past year — here’s his list for 2021. This year, I kept track of my own list, presented here in no particular order:

  1. “In Fargo, Carl says ‘30 minutes, Jerry, we wrap this thing up’ when there are exactly 30 minutes of the movie remaining.”
  2. There’s a Boeing 727 cargo plane that’s used exclusively for horse transportation nicknamed Air Horse One.
  3. In March 2020, the Covid-19 testing capacity for all of NYC was 120 tests per day.
  4. “The last time ships got stuck in the Suez Canal [in 1967], they were there for eight years and developed a separate society with its own Olympic Games.”
  5. The pronunciation of the last name of the man who lent his name to Mount Everest (over his objections) is different than the pronunciation of the mountain.
  6. While recording the audiobook version of Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White needed 17 takes to read Charlotte’s death scene because he kept crying.
  7. America’s anti-democratic Senate, in one number. “Once Warnock and Ossoff take their seats, the Democratic half of the Senate will represent 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half.”
  8. The first rap video shown on MTV was Rapture by Blondie.
  9. As of 2019, only 54% of Americans accept the theory of evolution.
  10. When CBD is taken orally (as in a pill, food, or beverage), as little as 5% of it enters your bloodstream. “If you’re at the coffee shop and like ‘oh, yeah, give me a CBD,’ you’re just wasting $3.”
  11. The size of FedEx boxes is proprietary. “The size of an official FedEx box, not just its design, is proprietary; it is a volume of space which is a property exclusive to FedEx.”
  12. In golf, finishing four strokes under par on a single hole is called a condor.
  13. A commemorative press plate is given to authors and photographers who have made the front page of the NY Times for the first time.
  14. A button installed at the behest of the previous President summoned a Diet Coke to the Oval Office when pressed.
  15. The number of people born in Antarctica (11) is fewer than the number of people who have walked on the Moon (12).
  16. The market for table saws is $200-400 million but they cause almost $4 billion in damage annually. Power tools companies aren’t liable for the damage, which is borne by individual users, workers comp, and the health system.
  17. Disney animators occasionally “recycle” scenes from older films, keeping the motion and choreography while redrawing the characters.
  18. In the past 45 years, the top 1% of Americans have taken $50 trillion from the bottom 90%.
  19. People age at different speeds. “People varied widely in biological aging: The slowest ager gained only 0.4 ‘biological years’ for each chronological year in age; in contrast, the fastest-aging participant gained nearly 2.5 biological years for every chronological year.”
  20. The Six Flags amusement parks were named after the flags of the six countries that represented Texas throughout its history, including the Confederacy. The last Confederate flags flying outside Six Flags’ locations were removed only in 2017.
  21. Humans have evolved to out-drink other mammals. “Many species have enzymes that break alcohol down and allow the body to excrete it, avoiding death by poisoning. But about 10 million years ago, a genetic mutation left our ancestors with a souped-up enzyme that increased alcohol metabolism 40-fold.”
  22. “It takes about 200 hours of investment in the space of a few months to move a stranger into being a good friend.”
  23. There are only 25 blimps in the whole world.
  24. In 2016, a fourth division Spanish football club renamed itself Flat Earth FC.
  25. “What exactly is meant by the term ‘Holocaust’? It means that the global Jewish population in 2019 (~15 million) is still lower than it was in 1939 (16.6 million). So many Jews were murdered that we still haven’t recovered demographically after 80 years.”
  26. Cannabis delivery isn’t legal in Maine, so this enterprising online shop employs “psychics” to “find a wide selection of your lost weed and drop it off at your home”.
  27. How algorithms radicalize the users of social media platforms. “Facebook’s own research revealed that 64 percent of the time a person joins an extremist Facebook Group, they do so because the platform recommended it.”
  28. Andre Agassi learned to break Boris Becker’s fierce serve by noting the position of Becker’s tongue right before he served.
  29. In emergencies, mammals can breathe through their anus.
  30. There are chess positions that humans players can understand easily that the most powerful chess engines can’t.
  31. As of May 2021, “Republicans and white people have actually become less supportive of Black Lives Matter than they were before the death of George Floyd.”
  32. Build-A-Bear over-purchased yellow fabric to make Minions plushies, so the company released a number of yellow stuffed animals made of the surplus “minion skin”.
  33. Scientists didn’t discover that the cause of the 1918 influenza pandemic was a virus until 1933. “At the time most microbiologists believed that influenza was caused by a bacteria.”
  34. Skinny bike tires are not faster than wider tires. “The increased vibrations of the narrower tires caused energy losses that canceled out the gains from the reduced flex.”
  35. The first RV was made out of a fallen redwood tree and was called “Travel Log”.
  36. “In the last four years, Costa Rica has generated 98.53% of its electricity from renewable sources.”
  37. Disney Imagineers use smaller bricks at the top of buildings to make them seem bigger and taller than they are.
  38. “Dogs tend to poop aligned north-south.”
  39. There are three different types of fun. “Type 2 fun is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect.”
  40. Babylonians were using Pythagorean calculations for the dimensions of right triangles 1000 years before Pythagoras was born.
  41. Galileo didn’t invent the telescope and wasn’t even the first to use it for astronomical purposes.
  42. By counting excess deaths from Jan 2020 to Sept 2021, the Economist estimates that more than 15 million people have died of Covid-19 worldwide, more than 3 times the official death toll of ~4.6 million.
  43. Michael K. Williams choreographed the dancing in the music video for Crystal Waters’ 100% Pure Love.
  44. Gas stations don’t make much money selling gasoline. The goods inside gas station stores “only account for ~30% of the average gas station’s revenue, yet bring in 70% of the profit”.
  45. Solastalgia “is the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault” (e.g. by climate change).
  46. The Beishan Broadcasting Wall in Kinmen, Taiwan was a massive three-story speaker system built in 1967 to broadcast anti-Communist messages to China.
  47. Before he became a famous actor, Timothée Chalamet had a small YouTube channel where he showed off his custom-painted Xbox 360 controllers.
  48. “China is planning at least 150 new [nuclear] reactors in the next 15 years, more than the rest of the world has built in the past 35.”
  49. Earlier this fall, a bar-tailed godwit set the world record for the longest continual flight by a land bird: about 8100 miles and “flapping its wings for 239 hours without rest”.
  50. “About one in five health-care workers [in the US] has left medicine since the pandemic started.”
  51. The Chevy Suburban has been in production under that same name since 1935, “making it the longest continuously used automobile nameplate in production”.
  52. The ubiquitous Chinese food takeout container was originally invented for carrying oysters.

The Best Books of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2021

The Best Books of 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crying in H Mart (ebook) by Michelle Zauner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloud Cuckoo Land (ebook) by Anthony Doerr.

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

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

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

Matrix (ebook) by Lauren Groff.

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

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

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

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

Harlem Shuffle (ebook) by Colson Whitehead.

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

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

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

The Lincoln Highway (ebook) by Amor Towles.

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

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

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

Get Back: Creativity Lessons from The Beatles

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2021

the Beatles asking for some toast and tea during a practice session

I haven’t had a chance to watch Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary yet, but I really enjoyed reading Tom Whitwell’s 10 lessons in productivity and brainstorming from The Beatles gleaned from the series.

1. The ‘yes… and’ rule

The first rule of improvisation (and brainstorming) is “yes… and”. When someone suggests an idea, plays a note, says a line, you accept it completely, then build on it. That’s how improvisational comedy or music flows. The moment someone says ‘no’, the flow is broken. It’s part of deferring judgement, where you strictly separate idea generation from idea selection.

As they slog through Don’t Let Me Down, George breaks the spell. Instead of building and accepting he leaps to judgement, saying “I think it’s awful.” Immediately, John and Paul lay down the rules: “Well, have you got anything?” “you’ve gotta come up with something better”.

Don’t judge, build.

I worked on a secret project recently (shhh…) where I really wanted to just say no but chose to do “yes… and” instead, which led my collaborator and I to a better solution. I love the improv rule, but it’s so hard for me to follow sometimes because my job is basically saying no to things all day.

6. One conversation at a time

One of the striking thing about the sessions is how polite everyone is. Perhaps it’s editing, but nobody speaks over anyone else. Everyone has a chance to be heard, which means people spend most of the time listening, rather than talking (apart from Paul, perhaps).

This is another lesson from musical and theatrical improvisation. The difference between a creative environment and a bunch of people shouting out ideas is the listening.

You can read all ten lessons here.

“52 Things I Learned in 2021”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2021

Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things he learned during the past year is always worth a read. Here are some of my favorites from the list:

4. 10% of US electricity is generated from old Russian nuclear warheads. [Geoff Brumfiel]

10. Short afternoon naps at the workplace lead to significant increases in productivity, psychological well-being and cognition. In contrast, an extra 30 minutes sleep at night shows no similar improvements. [Pedro Bessone]

21. Women’s relative earnings increase 4% when their manager becomes the father of a daughter, rather than a son. This daughter effect was found in 25 years of Danish small-business data. [Maddalena Ronchi]

35. Clean rooms used to make semiconductors have to be 1,000x cleaner than a surgical operating theatre, because a single transistor is now much smaller than a virus. [Ian King]

37. The notion of a personal ‘Carbon Footprint’ was invented by Ogilvy & Mather for BP in the early 2000s. [Mark Kaufman]

47. The entire global cosmetic Botox industry is supported by an annual production of just a few milligrams of botulism toxin. Pure toxin would cost ~$100 trillion per kilogram. [Anthony Warner]

Inspired by Whitwell, I have been sporadically compiling my own list throughout the year. I’m going to review it soon and see if there’s anything in there worth publishing. Of course, the 1300+ Quick Links I’ve posted in 2021 work as their own giant list of things I’ve learned this year.

The Ten Rules of Golden Age Detective Fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction describes a period between the world wars in which a certain style of murder mystery novel took hold, led by the prolific and talented Agatha Christie. Scott Stedman explains about the rise and fall of the genre in today’s issue of Why is this interesting?

It wasn’t until Agatha Christie introduced the world to Poirot that the genre shifted into its strictest and most enduring form: the garden variety murder mystery.

“I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.” —Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie is the most popular modern writer to ever live (outmatched in sales by only Shakespeare and the Bible). Christie is unrelenting in her ability to surprise — she killed children, popularized the unreliable narrator, introduced serial killers. Still, she was a fiercely disciplined adherent to a form created by her community of fellow writers, developed in the legendary Detection Club (including Dorothy Sayers, Ronald Knox, and the remarkable GK Chesterton). In an age sandwiched between two world wars — her stories brim with pride for a stiff British moral certitude that was impervious to the most heinous acts against it.

A central feature of many of these whodunits was that the reader had access to all the same information as the detective and could, in theory, figure things out before they did. In 1929, Ronald Knox wrote down 10 rules that made this possible:

1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

5. No racial stereotypes.1

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

It’s interesting to see how these rules are applied and broken in TV and films these days. I feel like “hitherto undiscovered poisons” and “appliances which will need a long scientific explanation” (not to mention the “unaccountable intuition” of characters) are now regularly deployed, which can lead to feelings of being cheating as a viewer if it’s not done well. (via why is this interesting?)

  1. I follow Stedman here in restating this point…Knox’s original text used a derogatory term.

The Ten Contradictory Traits of Creative People

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2021

The late psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identified and popularized the concept of flow and also did research around the linked ideas of creativity and happiness. In his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, he listed 10 pairs of contradictory traits that creative people tend to have.

1. Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest.

2. Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same time.

3. A third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

4. Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at one end, and a rooted sense of reality at the other.

5. Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.

6. Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time.

7. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role stereotyping [of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’].

8. Creative people are both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.

9. Creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

10. The openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.

(via open culture & austin kleon)

The Most Iconic Book Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2021

book cover for A Clockwork Orange

book cover for The Great Gatsby

book cover for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

From Literary Hub, The 25 Most Iconic Book Covers in History. Some good ones shared in the comments as well. (thx, serge)

Black Film Archive

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2021

Black Film Archive

Black Film Archive is a collection of links to films made by Black filmmakers & actors from 1915 to 1979 that are available to stream online. Maya Cade writes about why she created this archive.

The films collected on Black Film Archive have something significant to say about the Black experience; speak to Black audiences; and/or have a Black star, writer, producer, or director. This criterion for selection is as broad and inclusive as possible, allowing the site to cover the widest range of what a Black film can be.

The films listed here should be considered in conversation with each other, as visions of Black being on film across time. They express what only film can: social, anthropological, and aesthetic looks at the changing face of Black expression (or white attitudes about Black expression, which are inescapable given the whiteness of decision-makers in the film industry).

Films, by their very nature, require a connection between creator and audience. This relationship provides a common thread that is understood through conventional and lived knowledge to form thought and to consider. Not every filmmaker is speaking directly to Blackness or Black people or has the intention to. Some films listed carry a Black face to get their message across. But presented here, these films offer a full look into the Black experience, inferred or real, on-screen.

What a great open resource — exactly what the internet is for. You can read more about the archive on Vulture and NPR.

41 Questions We Should Ask Ourselves About the Technology We Use

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2021

In an issue of his newsletter, The Convivial Society, L.M. Sacasas posed 41 questions that we should ask ourselves about technologies to help us “draw out the moral or ethical implications of our tools”. Here are a few of the questions:

3. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
12. What was required of other creatures so that I might be able to use this technology?
16. How does this technology empower me? At whose expense?
22. What desires does the use of this technology generate?
35. Does my use of this technology encourage me to view others as a means to an end?

Sacasas recently joined Ezra Klein on his podcast to talk through some of the answers to these questions for certain technologies.

EZRA KLEIN: I’m gonna group the next set together. So what was required of other human beings, of other creatures, of the earth, so that I might be able to use this technology? When you ask that, when you think of that, what comes to mind?

MICHAEL SACASAS: So I recently wrote a piece, and its premise was that sometimes we think of the internet, of digital life, as being immaterial, existing somewhere out in the ether, in the cloud, with these metaphors that kind of suggest that it doesn’t really have a material footprint. But the reality of course — I think as most of us are becoming very aware — is that it very much has a material reality that may begin in a mine where rare earth metals are being extracted in inhumane working conditions at great cost to the local environment.

But that’s very far removed from my comfortable experience of the tablet on my couch in the living room. And so with regards to the earth, the digital realm depends upon material resources that need to be collected. It depends on the energy grid. It leaves a footprint on the environment.

And so we tend not to think about that by the time that it gets to us and looks so shiny and clean and new, and connects us to this world that isn’t physically necessarily located anywhere in our experience. And so I think it is important for us to think about the labor, the extraction cost on the environment, that go into providing us with the kind of world that we find so amusing and interesting and comfortable.

The Five Dimensions of Curiosity and the Four Types of Curious People

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2021

In a paper published in 2017, Todd Kashdan and his colleagues identified five distinct dimensions of curiosity. Here are the first three:

1. Joyous Exploration. This is the prototype of curiosity — the recognition and desire to seek out new knowledge and information, and the subsequent joy of learning and growing.

2. Deprivation Sensitivity. This dimension has a distinct emotional tone, with anxiety and tension being more prominent than joy — pondering abstract or complex ideas, trying to solve problems, and seeking to reduce gaps in knowledge.

3. Stress Tolerance. This dimension is about the willingness to embrace the doubt, confusion, anxiety, and other forms of distress that arise from exploring new, unexpected, complex, mysterious, or obscure events.

They also identified four types of curious people: The Fascinated, Problem Solvers, Empathizers, and Avoiders. (via the art of noticing)

11 Reasons to Keep Wearing a Mask After You’re Vaccinated and the Pandemic is “Over”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2021

two people wearing face masks

  1. You 100% do not want to get Covid-19.
  2. You are immunocompromised. Millions of people have immune conditions that make contracting Covid-19 much more dangerous for them.
  3. You’re traumatized from “the mental and emotional toll of the last year”.
  4. Because you need to be around people you suspect may not be vaccinated or taking Covid-19 seriously (e.g. as part of your job).
  5. You’re not feeling well and want to make sure to protect others around you.
  6. Because you want to signal to others that you are being safe and thinking of the health and wellness of those around you.
  7. You live in a household with unvaccinated people (kids, for example) and want to make sure to protect them.
  8. Because your personal risk tolerance is lower than other people’s.
  9. You need some time to feel comfortable enough taking your mask off around others after more than a year of that very behavior being dangerous.
  10. Because you want to.
  11. But mostly because it is NONE OF ANYONE’S GODDAMN CONCERN if you choose to keep wearing a mask. Fuck off! Mind your own business!

Where Do Company Names Come From?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2021

The Wikipedia page listing company name etymologies is a good place to spend some time.

7-Eleven - convenience stores; renamed from “Tote’m” in 1946 to reflect their newly extended hours, 7:00 am until 11:00 pm.

Samsung - meaning “three stars” in Korean

Coca-Cola - derived from the coca leaves and kola nuts used as flavoring. Coca-Cola creator John S. Pemberton changed the ‘K’ of kola to ‘C’ to make the name look better.

Pepsi - named from the digestive enzyme pepsin

Jordache - from the first names of the Nakash brothers who founded the company: Joe, Ralph, David (Ralph’s first son), Avi, plus che, after the second syllable of “Nakash”

GEICO - from Government Employees Insurance Company

Häagen-Dazs - name was invented in 1961 by ice-cream makers Reuben and Rose Mattus of the Bronx “to convey an aura of the old-world traditions and craftsmanship”. The name has no meaning.

Hotmail - founder Jack Smith got the idea of accessing e-mail via the web from a computer anywhere in the world. When Sabeer Bhatia came up with the business plan for the mail service he tried all kinds of names ending in ‘mail’ and finally settled for Hotmail as it included the letters “HTML” - the markup language used to write web pages. It was initially referred to as HoTMaiL with selective upper casing.

Mozilla Foundation - from the name of the web browser that preceded Netscape Navigator. When Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape, created a browser to replace the Mosaic browser, it was internally named Mozilla (Mosaic-Killer, Godzilla) by Jamie Zawinski.

(via sam potts)

The Bookshop: One of John Cleese’s Favorite Comedy Sketches

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2021

In 2014, John Cleese listed five of his favorite comedy sketches that he had written over the course of his career. Among them was one I’d never seen before but soon had me in stitches: The Bookshop.

I also watched another of the sketches he mentioned (The Cheese Shop) and it fell totally flat — Monty Python-style humor is very much a hit-or-miss thing for me, so YMMV. (via open culture)

Tips for a Better Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

On his blog, Conor Barnes shared an eclectic list of 100 Tips For A Better Life. I’m less keen on these sorts of lists than I used to be because they’re often written for people who already have pretty good lives and it’s too easy to imagine that a list advocating the opposite of each tip would also lead to a better life. To be fair, Barnes’ list acknowledges the difficulty with generalized advice:

31. The best advice is personal and comes from somebody who knows you well. Take broad-spectrum advice like this as needed, but the best way to get help is to ask honest friends who love you.

That said, here are some of the list items that resonated with me in some way.

3. Things you use for a significant fraction of your life (bed: 1/3rd, office-chair: 1/4th) are worth investing in.

I recently upgraded my mattress from a cheap memory foam one I’d been using for almost 7 years to a hybrid mattress that was probably 3X the cost but is so comfortable and better for my back.

13. When googling a recipe, precede it with ‘best’. You’ll find better recipes.

I’ve been doing this over the past year with mixed results. Google has become a terrible way to find good recipes, even with this trick. My version of this is googling “kenji {name of dish}” — works great.

27. Discipline is superior to motivation. The former can be trained, the latter is fleeting. You won’t be able to accomplish great things if you’re only relying on motivation.

My motivation is sometimes very low when it comes to working on this here website. But my discipline is off the charts, so it gets done 99 days out of 100, even in a pandemic. (I am still unclear whether this is healthy for me or not…)

46. Things that aren’t your fault can still be your responsibility.

48. Keep your identity small. “I’m not the kind of person who does things like that” is not an explanation, it’s a trap. It prevents nerds from working out and men from dancing.

Oh, this used to be me: “I’m this sort of person.” Turns out, not so much.

56. Sometimes unsolvable questions like “what is my purpose?” and “why should I exist?” lose their force upon lifestyle fixes. In other words, seeing friends regularly and getting enough sleep can go a long way to solving existentialism.

75. Don’t complain about your partner to coworkers or online. The benefits are negligible and the cost is destroying a bit of your soul.

Interpreting “partner” broadly here, I completely agree with this one. If they are truly a partner (romantic, business, parenting), complaining is counterproductive. Instead, talk to others about how those relationships can be repaired, strengthened, or, if necessary, brought to an appropriate end.

88. Remember that many people suffer invisibly, and some of the worst suffering is shame. Not everybody can make their pain legible.

91. Human mood and well-being are heavily influenced by simple things: Exercise, good sleep, light, being in nature. It’s cheap to experiment with these.

This is good advice, but some of these things actually aren’t “cheap” for some people.

100. Bad things happen dramatically (a pandemic). Good things happen gradually (malaria deaths dropping annually) and don’t feel like ‘news’. Endeavour to keep track of the good things to avoid an inaccurate and dismal view of the world.

Oof, this ended on a flat note. Many bad things seem to happen dramatically because we don’t notice the results of small bad decisions accumulating over time that lead to sudden outcomes. Like Hemingway said about how bankruptcy happens: gradually, then suddenly. Lung cancer doesn’t happen suddenly; it’s the 40 years of cigarettes. California’s wildfires are the inevitable result of 250 years of climate change & poor forestry management techniques. Miami and other coastal cities are being slowly claimed by the ocean — they will reach breaking points in the near future. Even the results of something like earthquakes or hurricanes can be traced to insufficient investment in safety measures, policy, etc.

The pandemic seemed to come out of nowhere, but experts in epidemiology & infectious diseases had been warning about a pandemic just like this one for years and even decades. The erosion of public trust in government, the politicization of healthcare, the deemphasis of public health, and the Republican death cult (which is its own slow-developing disaster now reaching a crisis) controlling key aspects of federal, state, and local government made the pandemic impossible to contain in America. (This is true of most acute crises in the United States. Where you find people suffering, there are probably decades or even centuries of public policy to blame.)

Bad news happens slowly and unnoticed all the time. You don’t have to look any further for evidence of this than how numb we are to the fact that thousands of Americans are dying every single day from a disease that we know how to control. So, endeavour to keep track of the bad things to avoid an inaccurate and unrealistically optimistic view of the world — it helps in making a list of injustices to pay attention to and work against.

The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

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

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

See also The Best Books of 2020.

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

Best Book Covers of 2020

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

The Best Books of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2020

The Best Books of 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“52 Things I Learned in 2020”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2020

Every year around this time, Tom Whitwell shares a list of 52 things he’s learned over the course of the year, complete with references so you can drill down into each one. Here’s 2020’s version — fascinating as usual. A few favorites:

3. The hold music you hear when you phone Octopus Energy is personalised to your customer account: it’s a number one record from the year you were 14. [Clem Cowton]

18. 10% of the GDP of Nepal comes from people climbing Mount Everest. [Zachary Crockett]

30. In Warsaw’s Gruba Kaśka water plant there are eight clams with sensors attached to their shells. If the clams close because they don’t like the taste of the water, the city’s supply is automatically shut off. [Judita K]

44. A micromort is a one-in-a-million chance of death. Just being alive is about 24 micromorts per day, skydiving is 8 micromorts per jump. [Matt Webb]

52. British clowns register their unique makeup patterns by having them hand painted onto chicken eggs. The eggs are then stored either at the Holy Trinity Church in Dalston or at Wookey Hole caves in Somerset. [Dave Fagundes & Aaron Perzanowski]

You can check out the rest here.

Five Nice Things

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2020

After Siobhan O’Connor wrote about a game she plays with a friend called Five Nice Things — which she called “a less-corny name for a gratitude exercise” — my friend Michael Sippey shared his five nice things. And since I need a reminder about some of the good things in my life right now, I’ll share mine with you.

  1. Friends. Like many of you, I’ve had to tighten my circle of friends during the pandemic just out of the necessity of not enough time/energy. That’s been hard, but the few friends that have pulled closer…those connections have been essential in navigating all of this. I’m especially grateful for rebuilding a meaningful friendship and forming a co-parenting partnership with Meg. ♥
  2. Every year in the fall, I go apple picking with the kids and make apple pies. I’ve been tinkering with the recipe — different crusts, different fillings — and I think I’ve settled on something I’m happy with. Maybe I’ll make another one this weekend…
  3. There’s a ramen place in the tiny town I live in that’s better than it has any right to be. I order takeout from them almost every week and it’s such a treat every time.
  4. Since I won’t be traveling anywhere anytime soon, Instagram has been essential for keeping a passive connection to friends all over the world. Liking each other’s photos, the occasional DM, comments on Stories/posts — it’s the same kind of lightweight asynchronous interaction that’s connected folks online since Usenet & CompuServe. I wish we could figure out a way to do this outside the context of massive user-indifferent companies, but going without is not an option for me right now.
  5. I’ve picked up playing Rocket League on the Switch over the past few weeks. It’s footie with the lads but with cars and the lads are anonymous 10-year-olds from New Jersey who are way better than I am. Good fun.

The NYPL’s Essential Reads on Feminism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2020

NYPL's Books on Feminism

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

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

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

For kids:

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

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

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

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

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

For teens:

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

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

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

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

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

For adults:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, you can access NYPL’s lists here.

Oliver Burkeman’s Eight Secrets to a (Fairly) Fulfilled Life

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2020

For the past decade, Oliver Burkeman has written an advice column for The Guardian on how to change your life. In his final column, he shares eight things that he’s learned while on the job. I especially appreciated these two:

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question elicits a deeper, intuitive response. You tend to just know whether, say, leaving or remaining in a relationship or a job, though it might bring short-term comfort, would mean cheating yourself of growth.

The future will never provide the reassurance you seek from it. As the ancient Greek and Roman Stoics understood, much of our suffering arises from attempting to control what is not in our control. And the main thing we try but fail to control — the seasoned worriers among us, anyway — is the future. We want to know, from our vantage point in the present, that things will be OK later on. But we never can. (This is why it’s wrong to say we live in especially uncertain times. The future is always uncertain; it’s just that we’re currently very aware of it.)

It’s freeing to grasp that no amount of fretting will ever alter this truth. It’s still useful to make plans. But do that with the awareness that a plan is only ever a present-moment statement of intent, not a lasso thrown around the future to bring it under control. The spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti said his secret was simple: “I don’t mind what happens.” That needn’t mean not trying to make life better, for yourself or others. It just means not living each day anxiously braced to see if things work out as you hoped.

(via @legalnomads)

The Best Self-Help Books of the 21st Century

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Oddball Stress Reset Exercises for 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 31, 2020

It’s 2020 and you’re probably stressed out about something. Or many somethings. Multiplicative intersectional stress. Clinical psychologist Jenny Taitz wrote a short piece for the NY Times about five different techniques you can use to “reset” your stress. These aren’t substitutes for doing the long-term hard work of managing your emotional life, but they can be helpful for moving back into the yellow or green should you find yourself temporarily in the red.

Along with breathing and listening to music, Taitz suggests plunging your head into cold water:

Marsha Linehan, a professor emeritus in psychology at the University of Washington, popularized an exercise in dialectical behavior therapy to regulate intense emotions that involves immediately lowering your body temperature by creating a mini plunge pool for your face. This sounds odd, but it activates your body’s dive response, a reflex that happens when you cool your nostrils while holding your breath, dampening your physiological and emotional intensity.

To do it, fill a large bowl with ice water, set a timer for 15 to 30 seconds, take a deep breath and hold your breath while dipping your face into the water. While this isn’t conventionally relaxing, it will slow your heart rate, allowing blood to flow more easily to your brain. I love watching my clients try this over our telehealth calls and seeing firsthand how quickly this shifts their perspective. Just being willing to do this, I tell my clients as they prepare to submerge, is a way to practice being flexible.

Thanks to Jackson for highlighting these exercises on today’s episode of Kottke Ride Home.