A superb and insightful essay on language and family.
Continuing for month two of this recent effort to note the cultural intake of the prior month:
- Medardo Rosso: Experiments in Light and Form, Pulitzer Arts Foundation — (Disclosure: Married to a contributor) (A)
- Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert Cialdini — Recommended by someone high-wattage bright in conversation, who was advising on how to nudge. (B)
- Magnitude: The Scale of the Universe, Kimberly K. Arcand (B+)
- The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror, Garrett M. Graff — An older book with Mueller at the core (B)
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath — I can still recall being taken by this cover in the Borders I frequented more than a decade ago. Finally read it. (B+)
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport — Enjoyed Newport's interview with Ezra Klein. Found the book just so-so, but the reminder is valuable. (B-)
- "The White Darkness: A Journey Across the Antarctic," David Grann — Another incredible novella-length gem from David Grann. After reading, don't miss an audio segment with voices from the piece. (A+)
- Get Out (A+)
- Room (B+)
- Phantom Thread (A-)
- 45 Years (A-)
With a nod to Kottke's monthly "Media Diet" posts, I'm experimenting this year with short monthly recaps of interesting things I've read, watched or listened to. (This is as much for myself, as noting what I took in can help me better recall it.)
- Paula Scher: Works — Terrific, from the opening essay and interview to the work itself. (A)
- Abbott Miller: Design & Content — Intelligent and beautiful. Especially loved reading about Miller's co-founding of a "content-based studio" years before 'content strategy' became a thing. (A+)
- We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates — I'd read most of these essays when they were published in The Atlantic, but they were even more powerful here as a package. I liked Coates' brief introductions to each one, noting any changes (to what happened in the world, to how he thought about the issues) since original publication. (A)
- Obama: An Intimate Portrait, by Pete Souza (A)
- "Old Woods and Deep: Traces of Cormac McCarthy's Knoxville" — A rare deep dive into McCarthy and in particular Suttree, my favorite novel of his.
- The Big Sick (B+)
- Columbus (A) — Unique and sensitive debut with such lovely and surprising architecture.
- The Sopranos, Final Season (A)
- Lomelda, "From Here," — Stumbled on her via Spotify Discover. The last-third build-up gets me singing.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on "Discovering America" — On this recent New Yorker Radio Hour interview with David Remnick, Adichie was incisive and funny. Moved me to pick up Americanah, which I'm reading now.
- Slow Burn — Binged-listened to this podcast about Watergate. Hard to believe.
- Saint Louis Symphony Concert Family Concert — First time taking Leo, who looked up with wide eyes at Powell Hall's magnificent ceiling. It was a treat that the special guest was the 442s, friends and collaborators on this Forest Park Forever project. A week since going, Leo's been loudly 'conducting' in the kitchen.
From the intelligent and beautifully made monograph Abbott Miller: Design and Content, which I devoured in early January, here is the designer/writer talking about the firm Design Writing Research, which he co-founded with Ellen Lupton:
During this time [perhaps mid-1990s], DWR moved from its basis in small print-based projects to exhibitions and publications. We elaborated our position as a hybrid of think thank, publisher, and design studio. The goal was to fuse our work as designers and writers, creating a studio that could generate content and use the unique skill set of designers to focus on projects about art, design, architecture, and ideas. In this notion of the content-based studio there were a number of inspirational precedents, from Charles and Ray Eames to Quentin Fiore and Bernard Rudofsky.
Our original emphasis on language and theory merged with work for clients who came to us not so much for the manifesto-like pronouncements of our mission, but for the thoughtful interplay of design and content in our projects. DWR was a self-consciously literary and conceptual hothouse version of a design studio, undertaking projects that experimented with literary theory and psychoanalysis, leaning heavily on what we saw as the vastly underdeveloped relationship between writing and graphic design. We borrowed from Jacques Derrida an expanded notion of "writing" (écriture), which included all elements of graphic communication, from symbols to spacing. Hence our predilection for mazes of glyphs, our attentiveness to the minutiae of punctuation and our maniacal focus on typography and textural systems.
Continuing a 17-year tradition, I'm happy to share my Annual Favorites list for the year 2017:
Let's start with the best thing that happened to my family this year, which is the arrival of Sylvia Huremovic Schenkenberg in late April. We're still smiling at her the way Leo was above, just a few days in.
- My Struggle: Book 5, Karl Ove Knausgård
- Blind Spot, Teju Cole
- Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine
- Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
- Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
- Swing Time, Zadie Smith
- Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, John Hodgman
- Now You See It and Other Essays on Design, Michael Bierut
- Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game, Karl Ove Knausgård and Fredrik Ekelund
- Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
- Obama: The Call of History, Peter Baker
- Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure, Bianca Bosker
- A Separation, Katie Kitamura
- Paul Rand: A Designer's Art
- More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers, Jonathan Lethem
- Powers of Ten, Philip Morrison
- Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind, Peter D. Kramer
- Lady Bird
- Under the Skin
- The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
- Clouds of Sils Maria
- Life Itself
- Better Call Saul, Season 3
- The Americans, Seasons 4-5
- OJ: Made in America
- Master of None, Season 2
I'm going to skip making a long list of favorite albums and podcasts, and instead note a discovery in each, respectively: Phoebe Bridgers (watch her Tiny Desk Concert here), and S-Town. They each feel a bit haunted, and they share, in parts, a gothic sensibility. (Also: I can't not mention Black Thought's instantly classic 11-minute freestyle video, which c'mon.)
Our SONOS Play: 1 is used every evening for listening to music as we get ready for dinner or just goof around with the kids. Things 3 finally launched, and it's attractive and enjoyable to use. It's only been a month or so, but I've been enjoying trying out Ulysses as a writing environment (despite having no interest in using Markdown.) I've been impressed with Airtable as a flexible, humane alternative to Excel, when you need a database of some kind but have zero needs for financial calculations. (I'd seen the fancy Sandwich video when it launched, but didn't realize it could fit my needs until the co-founder's segment on Track Changes.)
As noted on this website earlier this month, I was sad to see an end to the remarkable life of William H. Gass, who I was lucky enough to get to know over the past decade-plus. Bill lived a long and productive life, dying at 93, and working through his final year. I was honored to write briefly about him for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and speak about his life and work on St. Louis Public Radio. I continue posting notes from readers and admirers at ReadingGass.org.
Highlights from a very fun year at Forest Park Forever include engaging the public in the final year of Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park's Future, speaking at the international City Parks Alliance conference in the Twin Cities, launching a 2.0 version of ForestParkMap.org, and publishing Forest Park: Snapshots of a St. Louis Gem.
To close, a November 2017 photo of Sylvia and Leo reveling in the new hotel bed during a quick family trip to Kansas City...
I was honored to join Lorin Cuoco last week on Don Marsh's "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss the life and work of William H. Gass. The audio is embedded in the station's obituary.
I wrote a short piece for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this past Sunday.
A great fortune of my life has been to know this once-in-a-generation writer and be transformed by his work. At ReadingGass.org, I've begun sharing the many memorials coming in, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obituary, which includes a few comments from me. I send my deepest condolences to Bill's wife, Mary, and their entire family.
With this terrific Kottke.org guest post — "Bill Callahan, the only sad man worth loving" — Carmody had me immediately returning to the handful of albums I own. (As Carmody points out, Callahan's not on Spotify, my own daily streaming service: "This means his legacy risks being eclipsed for a whole cohort of fans. I find this unacceptable.")
Below, one of the gems Carmody highlights at the post:
A does-the-heart-and-mind-good interview with Georgina Godwin.
Thanks to a surprise purchase by my wife, I've been enjoying the new issue of Lapham's Quarterly, which takes music as its cover-to-cover subject. (How that theme was still open to them after several years of publishing is surprising.)
I've enjoyed reading Lapham for years, but hadn't known that he'd studied piano as a youth, or that he'd spent time in New York City as a young writer waiting (and waiting and waiting) to write about Thelonious Monk. After several months of sharing late-night space in the Five Spot, this happened:
At four AM on a Thursday in late March , the Five Spot’s waiters stacking chairs on tables, Monk stood up from the piano, snapped his fingers, thrust his palm in my direction. “Time to play, man,” he said, “time to hear what you know.” Out front in the back of a Rolls-Royce, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter was come to carry Monk home. She did so many mornings, but I never had been around at four AM to see Monk nod to the chauffeur holding open the door. A beautiful woman of uncertain age, wrapped in fur and wearing pearls, the baroness smiled, pointed me toward the seat in front. I can’t now remember if she spoke more than four words in my direction, either in the car or after we arrived at Monk’s apartment on West Sixty-Third Street at Eleventh Avenue.
Monk didn’t mess with preliminaries. Not bothering to remove his hat (that evening a fine English bowler), he pointed to the piano, opened and closed the wooden door of the bathroom directly behind it, seated himself on the toilet to listen to whatever came next. Nellie and the baroness sat upright and attentive on the small blue sofa they shared with a rag doll and a rocking horse. I played Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 27 in two movements (the first in E minor, the second in E major), run time fourteen minutes if taken at the indicated tempos. I don’t say I played it as well as Lipsky might have played it, but I’d been practicing it six days out of seven for two months, and to the best of my knowledge and recollection, I didn’t miss many notes, never once felt ill at ease or afraid. Monk stepped out of the bathroom, looked me square in the face, said simply, straight, no chaser, “I heard you.”
By then I knew enough to dig what he was saying. It wasn’t the personality of Lewis H. Lapham he heard playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 27. He didn’t care who or what I was, clubfooted and white or blue-eyed and black. It wasn’t me or my interpretation, it was the music itself, off the charts beyond good and evil that somehow and if only for the time being I’d managed to reach.
For The New Yorker Radio Hour, Joshua Rothman walks Central Park with one of my favorite living writers. I especially loved this bit, which comes after Knausgaard is asked about the differences between the way children and adults go through their days:
I have four children, and maybe when I spend a summer day with them, it is like nothing. Time is just passing. There's nothing remarkable happening. It's like the world is not attached to me, and I'm not attached to the world anymore. And then I remember the summers when I was a child myself — how important everything was, how attached I was to everything that happened, and how slowly those days evolved, somehow. I find it very easy to underestimate my own children. That I don't see them — that they're just little creatures, not realizing that they have an enormous, huge and independent inner life. Somehow, the task is apparently to be aware of that.
Excited to be presenting on 9/14 about Forest Park, Forest Park Forever, and finding new ways to engage as a visitor.
Following his exceptional profile of Father John Misty, Paumgarten goes deep with the intriguing, shrewd and self-aware St. Vincent:
When she listens to a playback, she often buries her head in her arms, as though she can hardly bear to hear herself, but, really, it’s just her way of listening hard. Once, during a mixing session, while she was at the board and I was behind her on a couch, surreptitiously reading a text message, she picked up her head, turned around, and said, “Did I lose you there, Nick? I can feel when attention is wandering.” Her cheery use of the name of the person she is addressing can seem to contain a faint note of mockery. There’d be times, in the following months, when I’d walk away from a conversation with Clark feeling like a character in a kung-fu movie who emerges from a sword skirmish apparently unscathed yet a moment later starts gushing blood or dropping limbs.
I was very sad to learn about the sudden death of a woman I was lucky enough to know while serving on the Prison Performing Arts Board. Agnes opened many eyes, including mine. She prized art, championed underdogs, fostered resilience, brought joy. Hers was a world-improving life.
Fascinating, entertaining profile in The New Yorker.