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 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.


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?


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


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


“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


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


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


In Conversation: Quincy Jones

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


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


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


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


American Utopia: Detroit

Quentin Tarantino and the Poetry Between the Lines


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:

Consumed the month of November, 2018

I don’t know… You spend over a year updating your blog with (almost) weekly posts, then it gets to November and you miss two weeks in a row!

Not sure why I haven’t got to this for a few weeks. It’s been busy at work, that’s for sure, but not unmanageably busy. One reason might be that I haven’t been consuming quite as much. I’m in one of those dips where all I can seem to digest is lightweight Netflix series (Atypical being a good example), so there’s not been an awful lot to report.

Anyway, let’s get to it.

Definitely the highlight of my month (so far*) was the Good Grief Charlie Brown! exhibition at Somerset House. It’s just a hugely enjoyable, funny, touching and downright daft place to be, and it has the best gift shop you will ever encounter. I had a great time visiting it with my brother (as you can tell from the photo above) and I would encourage everybody to go and see it.

Why are Humans Getting Better at Tetris? might sound like dumb clickbait, but it’s actually a really interesting little video essay about what happens when masses of individuals stop trying to crack a problem and a smaller dedicated group takes over,  working together and sharing tips.

I did read a couple of books this month. I polished off Alien Stars, another South East London-set pulpy adventure starring Harry Stubbs. And, of course, I read November’s instalment of A Dance to the Music of Time, Temporary Kings (which was fantastic, it gets better as it goes along). Just one more to go now. I’ll miss it once it’s over.

The only film I watched this month was the great Orson Welles documentary (my second of the year!) They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (it’s on Netflix as an accompaniment to the last Welles film The Other Side of the Wind, which I’ve yet to watch).

*I’m seeing the Beastie Boys next week!

Consumed the week of 29 October, 2018

Above, someone put the 1992, Channel 4 documentary The Cardinal & The Corpse on YouTube. Produced by Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit this is a “deliberately jarring, oddly engaging rogues’ gallery” that includes Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, and former Krays associate Tony Lambrianou.

Best long read of the week: Rosencrans Baldwin (founder of The Morning News) writes for GQ about his month spent Inside L.A.’s Cult of Betterness (gets weird quick).

Also in GQ this week: The Time Bandits of Southern California, the true story of a gang of luxury watch thieves.

Best thing on Twitter this week? This short thread about Florence Ilott, the first person to run across Westminster Bridge within the twelve chimes of Big Ben at noon.

This article from The Atlantic about a new study which shows that “finding beauty in normal activities can bring deep happiness to life,” rings very true with me.

…the beauty around us — the sky-high nave of the Westminister Cathedral, the ability to appreciate a simple lunch — offers hope that life can inch closer to perfection. “So long as we find anything beautiful, we feel that we have not yet exhausted what [life] has to offer,” writes Nehamas. “That forward-looking element is … inseparable from the judgment of beauty.”

Consumed week of 22 October, 2018

Photo above, from the newly-released trove of 130,000 Andy Warhol photographs now available online, courtesy of Stanford University (yes, I think I’ve posted a shot from this Capote/Warhol photoshoot before, but why wouldn’t you post it every chance you get?).

True crime long read of the week: How the Great California Dispensary Heist Went Horrifically Wrong, from Narratively.com (warning, what happened to this poor guy is pretty horrible).

I watched Dennis Hopper’s notorious Easy Rider follow up The Last Movie last year after tracking it down online. It’s finally getting a proper release in November, and Esquire have an essay on its troubled and insane creation.

Read quite a few work-related articles this week. This one from Greg Satell on Medium on why Innovation Isn’t About Ideas (I don’t normally read Medium stuff with self-help titles like that, but this one is not too hokey), and the same goes for It’s Okay to Be Good and Not Great by Brad Stulberg over at Outside Online.

Probably the best of them is Hemingway, a Lost Suitcase, and the Recipe for Stupidity from a site called Farnam Street, I hadn’t heard of it it before, and I hadn’t heard the Hemingway ‘lost stories’ anecdote it’s based on before either.

There’s a lot of ‘social media scare stories’ out there, but this very personal essay from Eve Peyser at Vice.com on what she learned growing up online is very telling and a little depressing.

Still reading the brilliant Picnic Comma Lightning, by Laurence Scott (about halfway through). Also this week we went to see I’m Not Running, David Hare’s new one at The National Theatre. It’s good, (not Skylight great), and the best performance in it is definitely by Joshua McGuire (the curly-haired one from Lovesick).

Consumed week of 15 October, 2018

Two great (I guess you’d call them ‘real world story’) long reads , this week. First is He Won $19 Million in the Lottery—And Became a Bank Robber from the Daily Beast (which kind of made me never want to win an awful lot of money). And the second is Inside the Mind of a Voyeur, the horrible but compelling story of Pete Forde “a good landlord and a great friend…[who was filming his friends] in their most private moments.”

For more ‘thought piece’ type fodder there’s The Secretive Organization Quietly Spending Millions on Facebook Political Ads from The Atlantic and The Growth of Sinclair’s Conservative Media Empire from The New Yorker, both of which paint a very sad picture of our current and future media landscape.

On the same note, there’s a great and quite personal take on the internet and the nature of storytelling from Walter Kirn in The Atlantic; which looks at the Anon Q phenomenon through a new lens:

“The Q tale may be loathsome and deeply wicked, a magnet for bigots and ignoramuses whose ugly dreams it caters to and ratifies, but as a feat of New Age storytelling I find it curiously encouraging. The imagination lives. A talented bard can still grab and keep an audience. Now for a better story, with higher themes. Now for the bracing epic of recovery that the dark wizards have shown us how to write.”

Also read this week: The Da Vinci mystery: why is his $450m masterpiece really being kept under wraps? from The Guardian, and Horror Lives in the Body by Megan Pillow Davis.

Talking of horror… I watched the Hereditary this week, which was truly upsetting and terrifying. Not a film I can recommend really, but you should still probably watch it.

At the other end of the spectrum, we went to the cinema, got a cup full of pick n’ mix and indulged in A Star is Born for a good couple of hours.

I also finished Books Do Furnish a Room (A Dance to the Music of Time, #10).