Hi, I'm Rob, and this is where I log the books, films, articles and other cultural flotsam that has caught my attention.

Consumed the week of 11 February, 2019

This week I drank a few pints of white chocolate, strawberry gelato beer (which also includes chilli and basil) and it was actually really good.

I spent the weekend up in Manchester (Stockport, actually) which gave me the chance to draw monster comics with my nephew (I expect my creation, Cheesezilla to be optioned by Marvel very soon), as well as some train time to watch Stephen Soderbergh’s new one, High Flying Bird (shot on entirely in iPhone and starring the fantastic Andre Holland).

I’m almost finished with Gary Shteyngart’s novel, Lake Success which was on quite a few people’s ‘best of’ lists at the end of 2018. It’s going to have to really pull it out of the bag in the last 50 pages or so for me to remember it at the end of 2019 (it’s good, but not great).

The best thing I saw on the internet this week was kubrick.life, a beautifully designed celebration of the director’s life and work. Coincidentally, tickets just went on sale for Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition opening at the Design Museum in April. I will be there.

I haven’t got into the habit of using newsletter app Stoop yet, (maybe because I don’t normally read things that require more than a little bit of attention on my phone), but Craig Mod’s smart essay on the rise of the newsletter is great and has some good suggestions for new subscriptions.

I’ve been listening to the Electric Lady Sessions album by LCD Soundsystem as well as Laurie Spiegel’s Expanding Universe, and the follow up Unseen Worlds.

Below, the ‘making of’ video for that recent Spike Jonze/Idris Elba Squarespace ad (yes I’m a Spike Jonze fanboy, so sue me):

Consumed the week of 4 February, 2019

Above is Purl, a new animated short from Pixar about a ball of wool that starts a new job at B.R.O. Capital and “quickly feels out of place among all the men in suits”.

Talking of childish delights… Cookie Monster did a Reddit AMA this week, and it was predictably brilliant. Kottke has a great summary of the best bits, including:

Q: We know cookies are your favourite food. What is your second favourite food?
A: Can me say more cookies…?
A2: Me thought it over. Definitely “more cookies.”

I didn’t do a lot of article reading this week, but I did devour this fantastic New Yorker article about thriller writer, and apparent compulsive liar, Dan Mallory.

I haven’t read Mallory’s book The Woman in the Window, and I’m not likely to now. But this week I did finish listening to Bruce Daisley read his book The Joy of Work, which deservedly topped the Sunday Times business book list.

I did read a couple of slightly nerdy/work-related things about Spotify‘s acquisition of Gimlet Media. First this frank and informative Q&A with Gimlet’s Alex Blumberg and Matt Lieber, and second, Ben Thomson’s analysis of the deal for his Stratechery site.

Also this week, a friend introduced me to the brilliant (if a bit stressful) board game Magic Maze (definitely considering buying myself this one), and I watched the Oscar-nominated documentary Minding the Gap (the director is 24 years old!).

And finally for this week, here’s a nice peak behind the scenes of that Spike Jonze-directed, Idris Elba-starring Squarespace ad:

Consumed the week of 28 January, 2019

Above, the beautiful “10-by-20-foot oil painting of an elaborately coifed and dressed 17th-century marquis and assorted courtiers entering the city of Jerusalem,” discovered while they were preparing the new Oscar de la Renta boutique in Paris. You can read the full story of how they found it and what’s going to happend to it over at the NY Times.

BY far my favourite long-ish read of the week was this incredibly evocative essay by Catherine Taylor, in which she “tracks cultural history through a Sheffield bookshop”.

Just this excerpt alone is enough to send shivers through me:

Leeds was an hour away from Sheffield and the fear of where the Ripper would strike next was tangible that dark winter. It seemed to permeate everything, dank, mossy, and slimy as Frog Walk, the narrow, unlit footpath which ran alongside the high walls of Sheffield’s overgrown, neglected General Cemetery in Sharrow. It slid, cold and viscous, into my dreams at night like the mercury escaping from a thermometer.

Staying with the bok theme, A Labyrinth in the Shape of a Book is a great article about Christopher Manson’s 80s puzzle book Maze (formatted in the ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style the book itself was written in).

As for what I’m currently reading right now, I’m about a third of the way through Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success, which I saw on a lot of people’s ‘best of 2018’ lists. And I’m alos listening to Bruce Daisley reading his new one: The Joy of Work: 30 Ways to Fix Your Work Culture and Fall in Love With Your Job Again, which I’m really enjoying and getting quite a lot out of.

Finally this week, we saw Adam McKay’s Vice at the cinema. I didn’t like it as much as did The Big Short, mainly becasue it seemed too packed with gimmicky directorial flourishes which put the brakes on the flow of the story. A shame, becasue the performances ar every good (Sam Rockwell especially).

Consumed the week of 21 January, 2019

Above, the brilliant Phoebe Waller Bridge answers Vogue’s 73 questions. Murder Murder Hair!

Last year I averaged one book a week. So far this year I’ve averaged one a month. That’s entirely down to Charlis Palliser’s The Quincunx, a 1,200 page mid-nineteenth-century “sensation novel” that was actually published in the late 1980s. I heard about it through this Neil Armstrong article on the Unbound blog which touches on the author’s claim that this is actually a “post-modern” novel with an “unreliable narrator” and that there’s a hidden narrative at play. I’m very glad I read it, but I can’t say I was as enamoured as Armstrong and his fellow Quincunx obsessives are. The book’s length just wasn’t supported enough by either the strength of the narative or the mystery of the construction. If I want that kind of book I think I’d go back to Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum.

This week I also installed the Stoop app on my phone. As someone who has carefully pruned their RSS feed to perfection over the past 15 years or so, I’m a little dubious, but willing to give it a go.

To give it the best shot possible I’m subscribing to all the people Robin Sloan names as part of the Republic of Newsletters:

Its neighbors include Alan Jacobs’s newsletter Snakes and Ladders, Alexis Madrigal’s 5IT, Joanne McNeil’s All My Stars, and Warren Ellis’s outstanding Orbital Operations, which remains the best ongoing chronicle of a working writer in the English language… High up on the hill lives the very smartest member of the Republic — he is a wizard, just about — who is named Charlie Loyd. His latest dispatch was a stunner, even by the very high standard he has established; I’m almost afraid to send you over, for fear you’ll never return. There are sections I could blockquote — want badly to blockquote — but blockquotes don’t do Wizard Loyd’s emails justice, because they are so organic, so clearly Made From Thoughts.

This week I watched Glass, going in with higher hopes than I should have thanks ot my love of Unbreakable (and my admiraion of Split). I was, of course, a bit disappointed. I only have myself to blame I guess.

I also watched Under the Silver Lake, David Robert Mitchell’s folow up to the brilliant It Follows. This was a huge disappointment. Massive. A mysoginistic, bloated, giant stink of a disappointment… I didn’t like it.

What I did like was the article Bruce Willis Gets No Respect from The Ringer. A great, little assessment of Willis’ career, from Moonlighting onwards.

The essential long read of the week was undoubtedly Jill Lepore’s New Yorker article Does Journalism Have A Future? (the short answer is, I think, yes, but none of us know what it looks like yet).

Anab Jain’s Medium article Stop Shouting Future, Start Doing It was tweeted by at east half a dozen people I follow this past week. Probably because they (we) have all been frustrated our and/or someone else’s lack of ability to “forfeit fear for uncertainty, to let go the clutches of deeply ingrained structures, and give way to the unknown.”

Finally this week, this Twitter thread by @forwardnotback made me smile.

Consumed the week of 14 January, 2019

There’s two very distinct themes in my media consumption this week. One theme (as you might have guessed from the clip above) is The Sopranos. My favourite TV series of all time (yes, it’s far superior to The Wire, West Wing and Breaking Bad… don’t @ me) is 20 years old this month, so there’s a lot out there to consume.

The clip of the series finale comes from Esquire‘s 15 Moments That Made ‘The Sopranos’ The Greatest Show Of All Time (it came in at number two), meanwhile the NY Times has a predictably grumpy interview with David Chase, and The Cut asked its writers to name the small Sopranos moments that had stuck with them all this time.

The second theme is a recurring one: modern social media Vs the blogosphere. Jason Kottke has a good, and relatively balanced post on how we might change social networks for the better, while Vice dedicated an episode of their podcast to the argument that Facebook should be replaced by a network of personal websites.

Sticking with the web… I saw someone at work reading Bob Hoffman’s book last year and my hackles were immediately raised (something about the snarky tone and the shit design of the book itself just put me on edge), but damn if this isn’t a good dissection of why targeted advertising isn’t a good way to build brand affinity.

Elsewhere Kayleigh Donaldson’s thorough and thoughtful take down of ‘influencer’ Caroline Calloway and her Creativity Workshop Tour was absolutely fascinating.

It reminded me so much of the TanaCon debacle from last year, and of course the most recent and high profile example of privileged, arrogant clusterfuckery: the Fyre festival (the Netflix doc is the best kind of car crash TV).

Another doc that I need to seek out is The Raft, the story of a 70s science project that “descended into violent chaos”. The Guardian article Mutiny on the Sex Raft is a really good introduction to the hole bizarre story.

Finally this week, a couple of podcasts I enjoyed this week: Reply All on Harry Potter and internet trolls. And Futility Closet on the Halifax Explosion.

Consumed the week of 7 January, 2019

Above, Chance the Rapper meet Cookie Monster (and Elmo). Difficult not to love.

At the other end of the spectrum, here’s a long and quite technical read about The Rise and Demise of RSS from Motherboard. It’s not an easy read but if, like me, you think the death of RSS was a pretty big nail in the coffin of the open web, then it’s an essential one.

Another good longish cultural read comes from The Ringer and their article on The Art of the Pan: What’s the Point of a Bad Review in 2019?, which asks writers from Pitchfork, The New York Times, and others to reflect on questions like have reviews gotten harsher or softer?

Steven Soderbergh published his now traditional end-of-year list of his Movies, TV Series, Books and Plays Seen, Read in 2018. It’s a great source of inspiration for anyone who cares about culture (both pop and otherwise).

There seems to be a trend towards magazines writing ‘high brow crime stories’, and as someone who really enjoys a great caper tale, that’s a pretty good thing. But I couldn’t help feel that the The New Yorker‘s The French Burglar Who Pulled Off His Generation’s Biggest Art Heist was trying a little too hard to create an air of mystery and romanticism around a bit of tool in the form of Vjeran Tomic. Still worth a read though.

Someone who is always worth a read is Jeff Jarvis, and his latest Medium essay on Donald Trump, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Marshall McLuhan’s conception of hot and cool media is no exception.

Still working my way through The Quincunx so no books to add to the list this week. But I did watch Green Book and really enjoyed it (before I’d read up on all the criticism that surrounded it).

Consumed the week of 31 December, 2018

Although this is my first post of 2019, the title still has the number 2018 in it, so let’s do a very quick retrospective.

I read 52 books last year. Here they all are. I admit that I got to 51 in the few days running up to the end of the year and so packed in The Drunken Sailor by Nick Hayes (a biograpy of Rimbaud in graphic novel form) in under two hours just so I could say I’d read an average of a book a week. Quite pathetic really.

And I watched 37 films last year (here’s that list if you’re interested). That’s quite a lot less than 2017, I think that’s mainly because I read so much more. I think the Dance to the Music of Time project (a book a month for all 12 months) really helped keep up my reading habit.

To finish off the Anthony Powell mentions for the time being here’s a link to the episode of Backlisted about the 8th volume of The Dance, Books Do Furnish a Room. Myself and a couple of friends were at the recording at the LRB Bookshop in London and we get a little mention a few minutes in.

And (this is absolutely the last Powell thing, I promise), here’s Christopher Hitchins writing about Powell and The Dance in the New York Review of Books back in 1998, which I was able to read after finishing the 12th volume in December.

Ok, on to some new stuff. I got round to reading some of the articles that appeared on Longreads’ ‘best of 2018’ lists, and a couple of my favourites were That had to hurt.’ Lessons learned on the diving board in summer’s final days from the Washington Post, and (trust me on this) Do Men Enter Bathtubs on Hands and Knees So Their Balls Hit the Water Last? from The Cut.

While we’re on the topic of ‘weird’, I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America, by Lauren Hough (“a 6-foot lesbian” in her own words) from The Huffington Post is fascinating if a bit depressing.

Of the few tech/internet related things I’ve read so far in 2019: The Cost of Living in Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet Empire is both the most saddening and the most accurate. This bit really hit home for me:

“The internet of 1995 and 1999 and 2001 and even 2007 was a backwater by today’s standards, but to me, it was the most wonderful thing. It was strange and silly and experimental and constantly surprising, and it made you feel good about other people, because online, away from corporate media and every channel of established culture, other people turned out to be constantly surprising too. They translated Anglo-Saxon poetry and posted photographs of Victorian ghosts and told you, to your eternal benefit, about what it was like to be someone other than yourself (in my case, to be a woman, to be a person of color). They wrote fascinating, charismatic diaries. And all of this, this faster, weirder, more forgiving universe, was right there, at your fingertips, for free. This sounds like nostalgia, but it was how I really felt at the time. We were making this thing together.”

Something else great from late last year is Crag Mod’s essay in Wired about what happened to ‘The Future Book’ we were all promised.

And, finally for tech stuff, Benedict Evans has some interesting stuff to say about why content isn’t king anymore.

Away from the internet and just thinking about ‘stories’ in a wider sense, this article from Latif Nassar, Director of Research for WNYC’s Radiolab, about how he finds new stories is great (ok, so most of them he finds via the internet, but what do you want me to do?). Absolutely internet-free is this essay from The London Review of Books on the work of Agatha Christie (yes, I watched Malkovich as Poirot over Christmas and enjoyed it, I also discovered that there’s a character in a Christie novel called Miss Hinchcliffe!)

I haven’t finished reading any new books myself this year, mainly because I embarked on Charles Palliser’s 1200-page epic The Quincunx after reading this post about it on the Unbound blog. I have watched a few new films though. Eighth Grade was very good and so was The Favourite (God bless Olivia Colman), and Bad Times at the El Royale was a pretty fun, pulpy romp. But seeing Japanese zombie comedy, One Cut of the Dead at the Prince Charles Cinema was an absolute treat. Definitely making it on to my ‘best films of 2019’ list I think.

Finally this week, a couple of short videos. This TED Salon talk about puzzle hunts is pretty fun and interesting:

And this short video essay about the last chess shop in New York is just beautiful.

Happy new year!

Articles of 2018: A megalist

For my last post of the year I thought I’d collect all my favourite articles/essays/long reads of the year. So here they all are (over 65 of them) categorised as best as I can for you to dig into over Christmas and into the new year.

Have a great break and see you in 2019.

PERSONAL ESSAYS & MEMOIR

The Cosmonaut’s Glove

Compulsion: Where Object Meets Anxiety

Why Aren’t You Laughing? Reckoning with Addiction

Why I’m suing over my dream internship

Was She J.D. Salinger’s Predator or His Prey?

FOOD & DRINK

Tokyo’s Long Lines Lead to Magic (and Life-Changing Ramen)

Letter of Recommendation: Drinking at Lunch

Flynn McGarry: Can ‘the Justin Bieber of Food’ Grow Up?

The Enormous Life of Anthony Bourdain, According to Those Who Knew Him Best

MOVIES & TV

The Making of Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie

David Lynch’s Night Truths

“Mr. Plow” at 25: How ‘The Simpsons’ Classic Pushed New Boundaries and Helped Cement the Show’s Legacy

It Had Never Been Done on Television Before: The Oral History of ‘Breaking Bad

My Woody Allen Problem

Wallace Shawn’s Late Night

In Praise of an Afternoon at the Movies

The Future of TV Is About Couch Shows vs. Phone Shows

Letter of Recommendation: Crying at Movies

What Ever Happened to Brendan Fraser?

Inside Trials of Johnny Depp: Lawsuits, Drinking, Marriage Gone Wrong

The Kids in the Hall – An Oral History (video)

Going All In: An Oral History of ‘Rounders’

Behind The Untouchables: The Making of the Memoir That Reclaimed a Prohibition-Era Legend

BOOKS & PUBLISHING

“I’ve got a few of these stories”: An afternoon with Clive James, Tom Stoppard and Julian Barnes

Will Self in Praise of Difficult Novels

The Mystery Buffs in the White House

The Gorgeous Typeface That Drove Men Mad and Sparked a 100-Year Mystery

Vice Media Was Built on a Bluff

SPORT & GAMES

Every Mission is a Suicide Mission – Accompanying a contestant to a pro-level Galaga tournament

Send the Barbarian in First · Dungeons and Dragons helped me bond with my kids—and now I teach other dads to play

SOCIETY & POLITICS

Improving Ourselves to Death

After Authenticity

My Life Cleanse: One Month Inside L.A.’s Cult of Betterness

Attention, Please: Anne Tyler Has Something to Say – The New York Times

Fran Lebowitz: ‘You do not know anyone as stupid as Donald Trump’

Donald Trump, a Playboy Model, and a System for Concealing Infidelity

The Wizard of Q

Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism

MUSIC

In Conversation: Quincy Jones

Bruce Springsteen on Mental Health, Springsteen on Broadway, His Father and His Career

TECHNOLOGY & THE INTERNET

I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore

Is 2018 the Year We Step Away From Social Media?

Twitter Lessons From A Writer Who Grew Up Online

“Oh My God, This Is So F—ed Up”: Inside Silicon Valley’s Secretive, Orgiastic Dark Side

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Frank Chimero · The Good Room

The Fall of Travis Kalanick Was a Lot Weirder and Darker Than You Thought

Instagram Poetry Is A Huckster’s Paradise

TRUE CRIME & TRUE STORIES

Schlitterbahn’s Tragic Slide

The Final, Terrible Voyage of the ‘Nautilus’

How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole Millions

Blood Will Tell: Who Killed Mickey Bryan?

Hunting the Con Queen of Hollywood

24-Year-Old Australian Man Spent $2 Million After a Bank Glitch

The Gambler Who Cracked the Horse-Racing Code

The Lottery Hackers

Secrets of Las Vegas’s Exclusive High-Roller Cosmopolitan Suite

How the Great California Dispensary Heist Went Horrifically Wrong

The Time Bandits of Southern California

PLACES

The Death of a Once Great City

Inside Tokyo’s audiophile venues

‘You Can’t Get Nothing Like This No More’: How London’s Oldest Family-Run Café Beat Gentrification

As Google Maps Renames Neighborhoods, Residents Fume

VIDEO ESSAYS

American Utopia: Detroit

Quentin Tarantino and the Poetry Between the Lines

I HEART NY

Spike Jonze Welcome Home – Apple HomePod Making Of

Consumed the week of 3 December, 2018

Above: at the recording of the Dance to the Music of Time-themed Backlisted podcast at the LRB Bookshop (thanks Scott for the photo). We (me and the two friends who read all 12 volumes this year… and who met up at the Ritz to talk about it… and who went to see painting at the Wallace Collection on the night the podcast was recorded…) got a shout out, so listen out for that when the episode comes out on Christmas Day.

Lots of other stuff to report his week: Did I mention I finished Hearing Secret Harmonies the 12th volume of A Dance to the Music of Time? Well I did and it was great. I would recommend the series to anyone.

Other things I’ve read this week:

Tom Whitwell writes a list of 52 things he learned every year, and this year’s list is very good. It includes:

  • The average age of viewers of Vice Media’s ‘Viceland’ TV channel is 42. 
  • In New York City, there are around 1,000 crosswalk buttons. In 2018, only 100 are functional, down from 750 functional buttons in 2004.
  • Peppa Pig tattoos are big in China. 

This article in GQ attempts to describe “the enormous life of Anthony Bourdain, according to those who knew him best,” and it very nearly made me cry. Especially this quote: 

 “That’s the thing about friendship with Tony. Tony lavishes you with love and friendship and generosity and kindness, and then he disappears in the night and you don’t get to reciprocate. It wasn’t mutual. But it was breathtaking to be loved by him.”

The Countess and the Schoolboy is a short New Yorker essay by Daniel Mendelsohn that was actually published in June of 2017, but someone recommended it to me this week and I’m very glad they did.

Selling Records in Tokyo from Longreads is a lovely insight into one of those compact and almost unknowable universes that is amazing to visit but you might not want to live in.

One of my favourite internet people, Jenny Odell, has created (not just ‘written’) this fascinating article on mysterious and bizarre Amazon sellers, and their connection to Newsweek, a SF startup and a Christian church.

The 2018 ‘best of’ lists are starting to come in. Some of the ones I’ve found most useful so far are: Kottke’s best books of 2018 mega list, AV Club’s best electronic albums, The NY Times 100 notable Books, and Medium’s 100 must-read books (although there’s a few obvious duds in there, so tread carefully).

Every year, David Eldritch creates a 25 Best Films of the Year Video Countdown, and every year it’s a corker:

I watched one of those films this week, and I can tell you that Support the Girls deserves its spot on the list.

Consumed the week of 26 November, 2018

Above, Ad-rock of the Beastie Boys, on stage at Kentish Town Forum as part of their book tour. I spent a very entertaining evening watching him and Mike D talk about their careers. 

Unfortunately the magician Ricky Jay died this week. I remember watching him on late night TV shows in my childhood (I’d tape these weird magic shows that were on in the early hours of the morning on BBC2 and Channel 4), and then later on seeing him in Deadwood and various David Mamet films. Vulture has a good collection of some of his best tricks, including this 2002 Conan O”Brien appearance:

Best long read of the week was this epic profile of Bruce Springsteen in Esquire, where The Boss talks very openly about his depression and his father.

Just a couple of other things this week: I finally got round to watching American Animals and really liked it (had to watch some scenes through my fingers though).

And, to get us all in the Xmas spirit, here’s a playlist of eclectic festive music, curated by the glorious David Byrne: