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 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).

Consumed week of 8 October, 2018

Above, an image from Maisie Marshall’s photo series on the world of British rodeo.

I don’t track my TV consumption on here (just because there’s quite a bit of it, and I’m not Stephen Soderbergh) but recently I”ve really enjoyed Better Call Saul and Lodge 49. Here’s an article from the Guardian on why Better Call Saul is superior to Breaking Bad (which is correct), and here’s an interview with the makers of Lodge 49 about why its pacing and its storytelling are so unusual and successful.

The New Statesman has a lovely record of a conversation between Clive James, Tom Stoppard and Julian Barnes at the party to celebrate the release of James’ new book.

Again from the Guardian: Oliver Burkeman asks, is the secret of productivity really just doing what you enjoy?

Over on Medium, one of my favourite cultural commentators, Douglas Rushkoff, makes the case for Universal Basic Income being a Silicon Valley scam:

Instead of asking the government to make up the difference for unlivable wages, what about making one’s workers the owners of the company? Instead of kicking over additional, say, 10% in tax for a government UBI fund, how about offering a 10% stake in the company to the people who supply the labor?

This Twitter thread by Tim Dunn on the Wapping Hydraulic Pumping Station (which closed in 1977) is a reminder that Twitter can be a delightful and fascinating place to be.

No films watched this week, but I did read the first two Harry Stubbs books by David Hambling (pulpy Lovecrat-adjacent stories set in my part of South East London).

Consumed the Week of 1 October, 2018

Above, Drew Christie‘s short New York Times ‘op-doc’ Allergy To Originality.

Two comic book greats died this past week; one who I was pretty familiar with, the other not so much. The name I wasn’t so familiar with was Norm Breyfogle. I heard about his death through Robin Sloan’s email newsletter Primes (only sent out on dates that are prime numbers). Sloan writes about Breyfogle: “In a Breyfogle comic, characters lived in a world of lines. His line wasn’t a representation of some deeper, higher-resolution reality; it WAS reality, the base level.

Here’s an amazing example.

https://i2.wp.com/www.robinsloan.com/img/email/breyfogle-cover.png?resize=493%2C395&ssl=1

The other name, which I was much more familiar with (thanks to a an entire childhood reading 200AD), was Carlos Ezquerra. Ezquerra was the co-creator of Judge Dredd, but it was his character Strontium Dog that sealed him a bona fide genius in my mind. His strange but beautiful style bended my pre-teen mind in the best way possible.

Best long read of the week was probably Instagram Poetry Is A Huckster’s Paradise from The Huffington Post. Even if you don’t give two shits about Instagram or poetry, this is a great read.

Also good, but also sad in its way, was The Verge‘s investigation into why Telltale Games shut down.

The Huffington Post also published a piece called No Lie: James Frey Still Sucks this week, and I have to say, after reading his new one Katerina this week, I have to agree. On one level Frey is the Fruit Loops of literature: fast, cheap, sugar-laden and wrong in so many ways that you feel guilty after demolishing it so quickly. But it had its place. But with his new one Frey’s misogyny and narcissism come roaring to the fore (at possibly the worst time, culturally) and it’s difficult to get rid of the taste in your mouth.

Film wise this week I caught up on a couple of pop culture nuggets, First, Ready Player One: not what you want from Spielberg, or form the source material; badly paced, lacking in heart and not nearly as entertaining as it should be (the best but was The Shining sequence).

Second was Ant Man and The Wasp: the best kind of popcorn nonsense, has none of the baggage RP1 has, so you just roll with the nonsense and have a laugh along the way.

Consumed weeks of 10, 17 and 24 September

This oral history of the film Rounders really made me want to go back and rewatch it.

And this fantastic Guardian profile of the brilliant Robyn has made me very excited for her new album.

Best long read of the week: Design The Gorgeous Typeface That Drove Men Mad and Sparked a 100-Year Mystery

Haven’t posted for a few weeks because I was on holiday in Lisbon for a week (oh those kiosks and their tiny beers). But I did have tiem to do some more reading….

I finished The Military Philosophers (A Dance to the Music of Time, #9) (my least favourite of the series so far).

And I also  succumbed to the hype and read Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (a solid three stars, but I had a few reservations).

Consumed week of 27 August and 3 September

Above, Jon Bunning’s short documentary, The Tables, which takes a look at “the powerful connection between a pair of outdoor ping pong tables in the heart of New York City and the unlikely group of people they’ve brought together, from homeless people to investment bankers to gangbangers.”

From Bloomberg comes the article, Ten Things I Never Knew About Las Vegas Until I Ran a High-Roller Suite , documenting the behaviour of sin city’s high rollers and VVIPS, and featuring a “misbehaving sugar glider (aka a flying squirrel) with severe separation anxiety,” and, “nocturnal snakes that required dozens of blackout shades might be the highest-maintenance.”

The Guardian reviewed Christopher Howse’s book, Soho in the Eighties, which I might have to put on the list. I didn’t get to London until the late 90s, but you could still see the patina of glamour and filth the 80s had left behind thank to its inhabitants’ “existential commitment to the ruination of chronic drinking,” while now of course, “… Shiny developments on Archer Street and around the new Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road seem to me to be silvery spikes hammered into Soho’s vampiric heart.”

The NY Times published an article by Joyce Maynard this week, with the title Was She J.D. Salinger’s Predator or His Prey?. A question which shouldn’t really have to be asked.

“My crime — which earned me the dubious distinction of being, in the opinion of one prominent critic, the author of possibly “the worst book ever written” — lay in my decision, after 25 years of silence, to write a memoir in which I told the story of my relationship with a powerful older man.”

Also in the NY Times this week, someone I used to know from the London tech scene, the brilliant LJ Rich, featured in the article You Know What London Looks Like. But Have You Really Heard It? in which LJ dons a pair of high heels and tours London with the musician Dessa for an auditory tour of the capital.

In a tour-guide voice, LJ announced, “The acoustically interesting spaces of London!” Despite the jokey tone, she made an interesting point: It’s remarkable how few sonic experiences we seek while traveling. We lean into our adventures with wide eyes and open mouths, hunting for photographic vistas and authentic local meals. It’s a rare story that leads with another sense.

Below, Roger Deakins’ handwritten list of 10 greatest films ever made .

And, talking of films, I watched Ocean’s Eight this week and came away disappointed. Seemed to lack some of the storytelling zip and style of the original (but not 12, definitely not 12). Although Cate Blanchett just dominated very scene she was in.

Consumed the week of 13 and 20 August, 2018

Consolidating two weeks into one post here because I was on holiday in Greece this past week (Santorini is beautiful by the way). A whole week of doing nothing but sitting in the sunshine, reading, eating, drinking and talking to my wife. It was fantastic.

Here’s what I read while I was gone:

I finished David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries (the video above comes from Byrne’s YouTube channel and is one of the most uplifting things you’ll watch all week, I promise).

I read the eighth volume of A Dance to the Music of Time (The Soldier’s Art), so I’m still on track to read all 12 by the end of the year.

I read the epic Gnomon by Nick Harkaway, which I received as a Christmas present but have been waiting for the right time to read an 800 page hardback uninterrupted. I really liked it (Pynchon meets Eco meets Auster meets Danielewski… on acid etc)

I finished the classic Lost Horizon by James Hilton in a single day (it’s pretty short). A recommendation from the great Backlisted podcast. Now I have to go watch the 1937 Frank Capra movie.

And I started Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (a fictionalised version of the later years of Truman Capote’s life).

As for films, before I left to go on holiday I was lucky enough to see Mark Cousins’ new one The Eyes of Orson Welles at the BFI, with a Q&A with the director. I really enjoyed it, and the whole thing renewed my love for Mark Cousins’ worth ethic, his enthusiasm, and his idiosyncratic view of the world.

I also watched The Commuter, but the real mystery at the heart of that movie is what the hell is going on with the colour of Liam Neeson’s hair.

To finish off this week, the strange, violent and pretty great video for Jack White’s Corporation.

Consumed the week of 6 August

Above, Joe Manganiello and Stephen Colbert discuss ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ for nine minutes on late night TV. Now, that’s television!

My favourite long read of the week by quite a margin: Every Mission is a Suicide Mission, the story of a pro-level Galaga tournament. Very welcome echoes of King of Kong.

Coming in second, is Tokyo’s Long Lines Lead to Magic (and Life-Changing Ramen), a story about queueing and patience and reward in Japan.

And then there’s the incredibly sad story of American couple Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan, who went on a cycle trip around the world only to be mown down by ISIS militants on a road in in southwestern Tajikistan.

I watched a bunch of films this week, mainly because Nina is abroad with work and I’m bored. By far the most exciting was the chance to see the new Mission Impossible film in the cinema. I grinned the whole way through it.

I also watched Like Father and I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore on Netflix. Both just okay.

Started reading listening to: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, by Stephen Grosz.