I’ve been knocked over by the beauty and control of Jessie Greengrass’s short debut novel, Sight, about becoming a parent and losing one. (I’d seen coverage in The Atlantic and The New Yorker.) I was impressed and absorbed by the very first page:
The start of another summer, the weather uncertain but no longer sharply edged, and I am pregnant again. In front of me is all the ordinary and useful disarrangement of my desk and beyond it the rain-smudged window with a view across our garden to where my daughter plays, watched over by Johannes. She has begun to lose, lately, the tumbling immediacy of toddlerhood. I notice it when we walk together, our strides separate, or when we sit face to face across a table—how she is taller now and straighter, and inflects her actions with intent. Once her thoughts broke like weather across her face, but that readable plasticity is gone and she is not so transparent: complexity has brought concealment. The weight of her body when I lift her takes me by surprise, its unfamiliarity a reiteration of the distance between us. She used to clamber over me, her legs, around my waist, her arms around my neck, as though I were furniture or an extension of herself, unthought-of or intimately known. Now she stands apart and I must reach for her, on each occasion a little further until it seems her progress towards adulthood is a kind of disappearing and that I know her less and less the more that she becomes herself. This is how things out to be, her going away while I remain, but still I think that if I could then I might reach across to where she stands, outlined against the violent yellow mass of a forsythia bush, and pull her back to me, to keep her always in my sight so that she might be nothing more than the sum of what I know of her.
Every 20 pages or so after that, reading at night in bed, I would tell my wife, This book is incredible — I’m stunned.
Don’t miss it.
Nathanial Rich’s whole-issue article in the NYT Magazine. I read it in one punch-in-the-gut gulp on a car trip unusually free of kids and other responsibilities. Can’t recommend it more highly.
Wonderful. Need to rewatch Moonlight.
That’s how code happens in 2018. The process used to be the sort of thing people did in slow and ad hoc ways, a few times a year, and only after a lot of infighting over email. Now the same process might happen 10 times a day, and the infighting is right there in the pull requests. Hundreds of people might be working on one code thing or 10 people on 100 code things. GitHub makes that doable. I can’t imagine life without it. I’d much rather tell a newbie to get a GitHub account than suggest she read the git manual. If all companies are becoming software companies, GitHub is a primary enabler.
A truly fun aspect of Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub is that it was announced before Apple Inc.’s Worldwide Developers Conference. This is like when Passover overlaps with Easter in New York City. The WWDC, sacred nerd summit of Appledom, is where they announce things like a new “night mode” for the operating system and try to convince programmers that Apple Watch matters. But GitHub is nerd infrastructure. Huge portions of modern culture—Google’s TensorFlow machine-learning software, for instance, and even other programming languages, such as Mozilla’s Rust—run on code managed there. For Microsoft to trot this out during WWDC is a real thunder-stealer. It’s nice to see global-platform capitalism played with a little verve.
Ford is one of the most consistently entertaining and informed writers on technology — from the inside out. A former Harper's staffer, he's also one of the few writers who can casually and believably drop a Borges reference in a deep-tech piece. (Note: I also dig his podcast.)
On this Father's Day, here are four terrific recent pieces I've been lucky to come across — two very short essays, two short poems — that capture this part of life so well:
I'm honored and grateful to have been selected to be part of the 2018-19 class of Leadership St. Louis. Here's how FOCUS St. Louis describes the program:
Leadership St. Louis is a highly respected program for established and emerging leaders who have demonstrated a deep commitment to improving the St. Louis region. The 9-month curriculum explores such issues as economic development, racial equity, education, poverty and social services, arts and culture, and the criminal justice system. Participants visit key sites in the bi-state region, engage in face-to-face dialogue with regional decision makers and gain a deeper understanding of leadership approaches that produce results.
I'm impressed with those I've heard from who have completed the program, as well the fellow participants I met at last week's orientation. Should be an exciting nine months.
The Longform Podcast's new episode with Elif Batuman is fantastic. I've enjoyed her writing for a few years, and in this interview you can just feel her thinking deeply about literature and writing and gender and observing in cities around the world and much more. As interviewer Max Linsky tweeted when sharing the link: "Genuinely, this is the most fun I have had in a long time. It was so fun, in fact, that at one point I stopped and said 'Wow I’m just very happy to be sitting here with you! This is so fun!' And then Elif was very gracious with me and then she said a bunch more brilliant things." It's true.
I also loved Design Observer's new episode with Aminatou Sow. She was new to me, and I'm clearly late to the game. On being late, though: Really enjoyed Sow's skepticism of the tech press's focus on the young (who wants to peak at 28?), vs. her interest in longevity; she's long thought the ideal age is 63 .
I don't think I've ever been more moved by an audio story than I was listening to this two-part podcast episode called "The Choice":
In April of 1992, Nada Rothbart was living happily in Sarajevo, Bosnia, with her husband and two young sons–till the night the Bosnian Civil War broke out on the street in front of her home. By the time they recognized what was happening–it was too late; Nada was trapped with her children, surrounded by tanks and snipers. After 60 days with almost no food, no water, and no power, a surprise ceasefire was announced. Nada put on her shoes, grabbed her children, and walked out the door.
That's just the beginning of this remarkable, harrowing story that contains both the worst and best of what's possible in life. Part 1: online or iTunes. Part 2: online or iTunes. (H/T to Snap Judgement, where I first heard episode 1.)
A wonderful conversation with an enduringly impressive thinker and writer.
In an essay for GQ, he provides a decades-later response to an esteemed literary figure's advice not to have kids, if he wanted a serious career as a writer. The piece closes:
And those four “lost” novels predicted by the great man's theory all those years ago? If I had followed the great man's advice and never burdened myself with the gift of my children, or if I had never written any novels at all, in the long run the result would have been the same as the result will be for me here, having made the choice I made: I will die; and the world in its violence and serenity will roll on, through the endless indifference of space, and it will take only 100 of its circuits around the sun to turn the six of us, who loved each other, to dust, and consign to oblivion all but a scant few of the thousands upon thousands of novels and short stories written and published during our lifetimes. If none of my books turns out to be among that bright remnant because I allowed my children to steal my time, narrow my compass, and curtail my freedom, I'm all right with that. Once they're written, my books, unlike my children, hold no wonder for me; no mystery resides in them. Unlike my children, my books are cruelly unforgiving of my weaknesses, failings, and flaws of character. Most of all, my books, unlike my children, do not love me back. Anyway, if, 100 years hence, those books lie moldering and forgotten, I'll never know. That's the problem, in the end, with putting all your chips on posterity: You never stick around long enough to enjoy it.
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
Under the Skin
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Clouds of Sils Maria
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: