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 8 July, 2019

Loads to get through this week so let’s dive right in…

That video above is from the YouTube channel Veratisium and it goes into brilliant detail about how YouTube works. Fascinating stuff.

Coincidentally, the sam day I watched that, I also listened to the most recent episode of Reply All, which also looks at YouTube’s algorithm and the effect it has on our behaviours.

I haven’t watched any of The Toys That Made Us on Netflix but this short article goes into the weird, accidental history of  He-Man’s Battle Cat and how he is “a metaphor for digital product development”.

Over at Popula they’re talkng about Cory Doctorow’s arguments and worries about digital books and why Paper Books Can’t Be Shut Off from Afar.

Loving the fact that Jarvis Cocker and Jeremy Deller have joined forces for a new National Trust art trail.

A couple of long reads about health and illness etc this week.

First was The Reappearing Act from Longreads, which is mainly about knife throwing.

Also, I have had Drew Magary’s essay about his “freakish brain hemorrhage” on my to-read list for nearly three months now. The reason it took so long to read it was my wife suffered a traumatic brain injury a couple of years ago (she is fully recovered now, thanks for asking) and I wasn’t sure I was up to reading about it. But I was, and I’m glad I did.

Complete change of course now: an article about Tom Stoppard’s work on the script of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and what that can teach storywriters.

Last article this week is this Frank Chimero interview about “causing ‘good trouble’ and re-imagining the status quo to combat achievement culture”.

Music-wise this week, I’m enjoying the new one from Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Mattiel:

Consumed the week of 1 July, 2019

Very short update this week, mainly because for half of the week I was residing in the ‘shepherd’s hut’ pictured above, in the middle of the Surrey Hills. I rode the 30 or so miles to get there on my bike, and spent my time walking around the area, eating bread and cheese and drinking the local beer. I had a great time!

While I was there I started in on Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan’s surfing memoir. I have surfed precisely once in my life, enough to know that I wasn’t a natural at the sport… let’s leave it at that. But I am bloody good at reading about it and this is a very easy but vivid and sometimes beautiful read so far.

My favourite thing I watched this week was Kate Isobel Scott’s minute-long animation about what you might miss if you stare at your phone on the tube.

But I also watched Gloria Bell, in which Julianne Moore dances, smokes weed, and shoots people with a paintgun.

I only managed one long read this week, and that was this article from the Baffler about the fluctuations in the art market and specifically about why abstract expressionism is falling out of fashion right now.

Musical treat this week is some ambient loveliness from Tom Adams.

Consumed the week of 24 June, 2019

Above, the trailer for Jay Myself, a documentary about the photographer Jay Maisel and specifically his move out of his 35,000 square-foot, 100-year-old landmark building in Manhattan. I will eat this up with a giant spoon.

My recommended long read this week is the same long read everyone else has been linking to this week: The Time I Went On A Lesbian Cruise And It Blew Up My Entire Life, from Buzzfeed.

I also read this Vox article about who’s profiting from moon landing conspiracies. It’s little lightweight and lazy (spoiler 1: it’s Google, Amazon and Fox who are profiting… because they profit from… everything) but there’s an interesting idea somewhere in there.

Much more entertaining was the article about the ‘lost reunion’ between John Lennon and Paul McCartney from Longreads. I knew some bits of this from other places (mainly documentaries and articles about Harry Nilsson), but didn’t know the full story. Here’s the recording itself if you’re interested (spoiler 2: the recording is not as interesting as the story).

The Big Mood Machine from The Baffler is all about how Spotify is essentially monetising your moods. It creeps a little towards ‘tin foil hat’ territory at times (I don’t think there’s anything inherently ‘bad’ about Spotify calling itself a “positive enhancer” for example, show me the company who wants to brand themselves as a “negative enhancer”), but the central argument that it’s our emotions that are now the most important ‘data’ for advertisers is compelling and, yes, worrying.

Coincidentally, this popped up in my RSS feed today.

Cinematic consumption this week was limited to The Standoff at Sparrow Creek which is flawed but very enjoyable and well put together (like, Swiss-watch-put-together).

Musically-speaking this week it was all about Glastonbury, so here’s a version of This Life by Vampire Weekend from their Spotify (yep, them again) sessions:

Consumed the week of 17 June, 2019

I read two books this week, thank mainly to one of those books being very short. As well as being very short, The Parakeeting of London is very entertaining and fun. In it gonzo ornithologists Nick Hunt and Tim Mitchell “track the progress of the parakeets from park to cemetery to riverbank, meeting Londoners from all walks of life who share their thoughts, opinions and theories on these incongruous avian invaders.” Highly recommended.

The other book I ripped through this week was Bluff a card sharp/magician thriller that is very well put together and dying to be made into a film. I would definitely read more Michael Kardos based on this one.

Talking of poker, I came across a reference to this article from 2016 about ‘high end poker cheating devices’ i.e. doctored phones that can ‘read’ the side of face down marked cards and tell the user which hand is winning almost in real time. I imagine they’re even more sophisticated in 2019.

I didn’t watch any films this week, but I did add a few to my ‘to watch’ thanks to A.V. Club‘s best films of 2019 so far list. Although they do have Under The Silver Lake on there. That’s just wrong.

I mentioned my love of Robyn last week, so this article form NPR’s American Anthem’s series, praising the brilliance of her Dancing On My Own was very well timed.

Another week, another true crime long read. This time its’ a Postmodern Murder Mystery about a detective who suspects of an author of committing a murder similar to the one he describes in his novel.

The other long read of the week was Prospect magazine on the problem with authenticity.

Music for the week is the new single from the great !!!.

Consumed the week of 10 June, 2019

Above, a video which should probably be titles ‘Idiot interviewers ask idiot questions to Debbie Harry’. I’d like to think these kind of interrogations are a thing of the past… but I doubt it.

I haven’t read many articles this week, but I have read two books. I finished The Heavens by Sandra Newman (“From their first meeting, Ben knows Kate is unworldly and fanciful, so at first he isn’t that concerned when she tells him about the recurring dream she’s had since childhood. In the dream, she’s transported to the past, where she lives a second life as Emilia, the mistress of a nobleman in Elizabethan England.”). Think I heard it reviewed on the radio (Radio 4’s Front Row probably) and was intrigued enough to put it on my ‘To Read’ list.

I also read The Parakeeting of London, An Adventure in Gonzo Ornithology by Nick Hunt and Tim Mitchell, which is one of the most joyous and interesting and fun (and quick) books I’ve read for a long time. I really liked it.

I finally got round to watching Captain Marvel, which was… ok I guess. So many of these Marvel movies leave me non-plussed. I think you maybe need to see them in a cinema to really appreciate them.

At the other end of the cinematic spectrum I watched A Poem is a Naked Person, Les Blank’s first documentary about musician Leon Russell. It’s rambling and loose and flawed, but also weirdly beautiful.

Music-wise this week it has to be the video for Robyn’s track Ever Again which I must have watched five times in the space of 24 hours, and which has put a huge stupid grin on my face every time. I love this woman.

Consumed the week of 27 May and 3 June, 2019

Missed last week because I was away on holiday (in Turkey – here’s my favourite fact about Turkey) celebrating my birthday. Safely back in SE London now, and this is going to be a quick one because I’m tired and there’s plenty of TV to catch up on.

Above: Something that the YouTube algorithm pushed at me: The complete saga of Harmony Korine on Letterman (and why he got banned for life).

I upped my reading ratio while I was on the sun lounger.

I read Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing by Robert Caro (excellent, especially as this is the first thing of his I’ve ever read – I need to catch up), The Never Game by Jeffrey Deaver (obligatory thriller, not great but good enough for a holiday binge), The Professor and the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit and Defrocking (as good as the title makes it sound and great if you love these kind of bonkers true life tales… which I do), and I finally got round to Normal People by Sally Rooney (took me a while because I didn’t love Conversations With Friends, but I thought this was phenomenal, really enjoyed it).

On the plane on the way back I watched The Perfection (insane horror thriller on Netflix, you have to go along with it and it goes a little too far off the rails at times, but made for a plane journey).

I also saw Booksmart which is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. Funny, touching, smart and great soundtrack. Everyone should see this film.

A quick run through of some articles I’ve read:

Capitalism Camp for Kids from the NY Times, scared the hell out of me.

Neal Stephenson Explains His Vision of the Digital Afterlife is worth a read.

The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones is more interesting than it’s click-baity headline would have you believe.

A good writer is hard to find is a look at the life of John ‘Stoner’ Williams.

And there’s an article in Vice about how great Nigel Slater is!

See you in a week.

Consumed the week of 20 May, 2019

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Late this week, because it was a bank holiday and it was a busy…ish one.

On Friday I went to All Points East over in Victoria Park to see (among others) Chemical Brothers (above), Hot Chip, Peggy Gou, and Maurice Fulton. It was very good, so good that I had to spend most of Saturday getting over it and preparing for the Vitality 10k run which I did on Monday. Very happy to get round in around 56 minutes. Anything under an hour was good as far as I was concerned (especially after Friday).

Earlier in the week I visited the legendary Crystal Palace bookshop Bookseller Crow to see my friend Will Wiles read from and talk about his new novel Plume (here’s a great review from The Quietus) alongside James Smythe and Sam Byers. It was so good to see Will again (Will was a very early and brilliant writer on Londonist) and having just finished Plume the morning I can tell you it’s a fantastic read. N.B. I got Will to sign my copy of the book, but I also got him to sign the dust cover he provided for ‘Night Traffic‘ the book that appears within the book, as the fictional author. That’s as meta as it gets I think.

So what have I consumed this week?

First up: obligatory Game of Thrones thought piece. This from Vulture was my favourite take on why Daenerys’ action in the The Bells was earned (with quite a bit of Lord of the Rings thrown in for good measure).

I seem to read one con/crime/gambling article every week or so. This week it was the fascinating The professor who beat roulette.

Not criminal or con or gambling related, but also very much related to all those worlds is The Invention of the ‘Salvator Mundi’ Or, How to Turn a $1,000 Art-Auction Pickup Into a $450 Million Masterpiece. also from Vulture.

Good writing about music is very hard to find. Good writing about jazz is even scarcer. So this article about John Coltrane from the TLS really impressed me (even more impressive is that fact it’s relatively short and steers away from the more nerdy, technical style of jazz writing).

I can’t let a week go by without pointing to an article about the history of and/or the future of the internet. So here’s The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet over on Medium:

In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.

Finally this week: a Letterboxd review of John Wick 3. I know, I know – but this is very astute criticism about how fantasy worlds eventually descend into bureaucracy.

Music this week. Have a listen to Maurice Fulton’s guest show for Beats in Space:

Consumed the week of 13 May, 2019

I haven’t done an awful lot of reading this week. To be fair, I haven’t done an awful lot of reading this year. Definitely not compared to last year.

I have been listening to a lot more music however. I spent a bit of money getting myself a new turntable, amp and speakers earlier this year and it’s been a massive pleasure playing old records and hearing them in an entirely new way.

This week has all been about Talking Heads, Steely Dan and The Modern Lovers. Plus I’m still obsessed by the new Vampire Weekend album, Father of the Bride, which I picked up on lovely double orange vinyl.

I went to the Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum this week. They have some amazing props and other artefacts there. Kubrick’s notebooks and annotated books are especially fascinating I think (although you’re better off watching Jon Ronson’s documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes if you get off on that type of thing). I couldn’t help feeling though that the whole thing was a little flat and unimaginative. It didn’t feel as trippy, or provocative or as detailed as Kubrick’s films. It felt more like a greatest hits package.

I did watch a couple of films this week. First Robert Redford’s ‘last film’ (even though he pops up in Endgame), The Old Man and the Gun. It’s one of those gently rolling films, best experienced on a Sunday sofa session where you can let Redford’s charisma (and Sissy Spacek’s) just wash over you.

I also finally watched Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which is mind-blowingly good. The creativity, the storytelling, the sheer joy of every frame. It’s something I’d watch again tomorrow and recommend to everyone whether they have kids and/or like ‘superhero films’.

I half read quite a few articles this week. Long, rambling features about Michel Foucault taking acid, or Adam Gopnik’s new book on liberalism… but I lost patience with them and so read an interview with Shinya Hasegawa, the founder of the fashion label Battenwear instead.

I followed that up with this article about the ‘Let People Enjoy Things’ meme, which I was all ready to disagree with but which won me over.

Music highlight of the week is the new one by Fort Romeau:

Consumed the week of 6 May, 2019

Above: an interesting 20 minute documentary about Subvertisers for London, found via the brilliant Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives.

The other video which really stayed with me this week (and may have made me cry a little bit), is How Autism Feels, From the Inside from the NY Times:

A couple of ‘How…’ articles this week. The first is How a poker expert made his fortune — one cent at a time; and the second is How Cults Corrected America (actually a book review from the New Yorker).

Other long-ish reads this week:

The Night John Belushi Died from the Hollywood Reporter is interesting… but actually pretty depressing and downright sad.

While, The Enduring Myth of a Lost Live Iggy and the Stooges Album is veeeerrrrry long (maybe little too long) but ultimately fascinating (as these deep dives into subcultures tend to be… I think).

The most feel good read of the week was definitely And now, a nice story about the kid who yelled “wow!” at the symphony from the AV Club (which I am a huge fan of and don’t link to often enough on this blog considering how much I read it).

The most personal read of the week (both from the author’s perspective and mine, as I know the author a little), was Will Wiles’ Confessions of an Alcoholic from Saturday’s Guardian (cannot wait to read Plume).

The opinion I most agree with this week? Go To The Movies In The Morning.

Federico Borella was named Photographer of the Year this week for his series on climate change in India. Just look at this photo!

Not a whole lot of new music to link to this week, mainly because I’m obsessed with the new Vampire Weekend album. But VW’s Ezra Koenig does have a great radio show that you can listen to even if you don’t subscribe to Beats Radio (which I don’t).

Consumed the week of 29 April, 2019

I watched Avengers: Endgame this week. I enjoyed it a lot. Not ‘five stars’ as a few critics have said, but definitely four.

There were more than a few think pieces around this week, as that Game of Thrones episode aired in the same week. This was the best of them I think, but even this one is a little meandering and toothless. Honestly, I think it’s going to take while for us to work out where all this is heading.

A better read are ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Has Taken Over the World. Let’s Talk About Fan Service and Marvel’s Legacy and ‘Avengers: Endgame’: The Screenwriters Answer Every Question You Might Have, both from the NY Times.

One of my favourite reads of the week was also from the NY Times (don’t worry I give the money via a digital subscription). One Island, 32 Miles, a Million Emotions is a short essay about a 12-hour walking tour around the edge of Manhattan. It’s great.

I also enjoyed (if that’s the word) To Grieve Is to Carry Another Time by Matthew Salesses at Longreads. Hard going, but very worth it.

Also from Longreads is None of the President’s Men about pop culture’s portrayal of journalism (clue: the real thing is nowhere near as romantic as the 70s heyday).

A bit more relaxed is The Irish Pub Is Dead, Long Live the Irish Pub which is an essay about gentrification in NYC. I realise now that I’m a bit obsessed with gentrification.

And as a big Eno fan, I gobbled up The Essential Guide to Roxy Music, From the Songs to the Eno-Ferry Feud by Vulture.

Talking of subscriptions… about a year ago The Times Literary Supplement began arriving through our letterbox. It was addressed to my wife and had out correct address…except the address also contained ‘Barnsley’ (the town closest to where I grew up). To this day we have no idea why it started arriving, but it suddenly stopped a few weeks ago, so I just spent my own money resubscribing as I’d enjoyed reading it so much. If that’s some kind of strategy by the publishers…well, it works.

I also just took out a subscription to The Idler. Who says the hardcopy press is dead?!

Books this week: I ripped through Austn Kleon’s Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad which was a good follow up to How To Do Nothing.

As for music this week, here’s my 50+ track ‘summer playlist’ for this year: