Charles and Ray, Designers From the Near Future

Loved this passage from Sam Jacob’s essay “Context as Destiny: The Eameses from Californian Dreams to the Californiafication of Everywhere,” published in the satisfyingly chunky The World of Charles and Ray Eames (2016):

For architects and designers like [Peter and Alison Smithson, who were British], the Eameses’ Californian-ness opened a dazzlingly bright window into another world, a sun-kissed world far from the origins of European modernism weighed down by all that Old War baggage — by history, politics and war, by notions of an avant-garde, by post-war reconstruction and the serious politics of the welfare state.

To the Smithsons and their ilk, the Eameses appeared as if designers from the near future. They saw in the American couple a ‘light-hearted thinking in featherweight climate-bits-and-pieces seeming off-the-peg-architecture … [a] do-it-yourself out of gorgeous catalogues, the Sears-Roebuck thinking … [a] whole blow-up, plug-in, camp-out, dump-digging type of thinking and living.’ They saw in Charles and Ray the kind of design practice that they themselves were struggling to imagine — a form of design practice that combined the modernist legacy of social improvement with new sensibilities of popular, mass-produced modernity. They saw a lightness of touch, with a direct connection to lifestyle and an easy ability to reach out across the traditional boundaries of design and out into the wider world.

Teju Cole on Embedding Hesitation

Really enjoyed this substantive recent conversation on Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast. At one point, Tippett quotes Cole’s Blind Spot, one of my favorite books from the last few years: “To look is to see only a fraction of what one is looking at. Even in the most vigilant eye, there is a blind spot. What is missing?” She tells Cole, “I find that useful language.” The ruminative Cole responds:

Well, thank you. I find it very fortifying as an idea, to think about what is not evident, what’s not apparent. I have a real struggle, especially when I’m writing for the Times. I have a very sympathetic, understanding, and encouraging editor, who lets me get away with all kinds of things, but I’m always trying to lower the volume of my essays. Very often, I’m trying to write and not say more than can justly be said. I want to reduce the number of sparks. I want to embed hesitation and lack of certainty in it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Essential Role of Great Editors

At the close of Coates’ recent interview with Chris Hayes, the host asks him if he’s working on a new book. The dodge Coates gives, not wanting to discuss a project-in-process, ends up being a terrific toast to the necessity of sharp, tough early readers and editors:

I do, I do have a writing project and I love you people so much, let me tell you how much I love you. I was due on this writing project two weeks ago, it was like two weeks ago and yet I'm here with you. How much love is in my heart? Here I am. I do, man and I do and what I'll say is, I love it and it's the hardest thing ever. Writing is so ... I want to talk really, I don't know if they're people who want to be writers, who are writers in the building. But I just want to talk really quickly about that process. And about specifically working with [my editor] Chris [Jackson], who is magnificent. I give him shit all the time but he's actually magnificent, best editor and publisher, excuse me, make sure I get his title right.

I have a note that one day, we should have put it in "We Were Eight Years in Power," and the note is, I wrote "Between the World and Me" four times. And every time I would submit a draft to Chris and he'd be like, "Hmm, I don't know. I don't know, I don't know." Basically, I had to go and rewrite before we even got to the level of actual line by line editing. So he sent me a note after what must have been the second or third draft. And it's just like 2,000 words about why this does not work. And it was so depressing. I remember getting it at the time, I think you have to understand about "Between the World and Me" is, it's a book that came out of my head. I had artistic inspiration in the sense of James Baldwin, the fact that I had been working through the death of my friend for 14 years at that point.

I had the fact of a black president which was sort of swirling around but I didn't know what that was. Even the idea of a letter came at the very end of the actual process of us working together. And man, I got that note from Chris, 'cause every time you're like, "Okay, I think this is it, I think I got it, I think I got it." And it's go again, go again. And I feel like at that point, I was well-known enough and this is how the industry works. Somebody would have published that draft. It's an inferior draft, it's not the same book. And this is, I've been blessed because this is actually the relationship we have even on this book, man. I turned in a draft about this time last year. Oh, I'm done, we're gonna go to line edits. And Chris took forever to read it as is his way.

But when he did, he wrote, he did a little bit of line edit but he came over to the house and he talked to me about it and it was clear that I had to rewrite the whole thing. This is my third time, I've been writing this book for 10 years, this is my third time rewriting it. But he's not gonna let me embarrass myself. You understand? I think I'm good as a writer, but I actually have much more confidence in the people around me because the people around me, they just gonna tell me, "It's not time. It's not time, don't embarrass yourself." I think a lot of writers, listen, I think talent is really important but I think what I have been blessed with, from the time I was in my mom and my dad's house, you know what I mean? From the period of working for David Carr. From the period when James Bennett ran The Atlantic. I had hard people around me. You know who just pushed. Do it again, go again, go again, go again, go again.

So if you like what you see, and this is why I'm always a little uncomfortable with this, what you are seeing is not some innate thing. What you are seeing is, go again, go again, go again. And that's the spirit I think of certainly good writing and any writing that hopes to be great. The bleeding on the page. And then bleeding again and again. I just tell him this all the time, I'm thankful to have a reader like that who push you in that sort of way.

New Knausgaard Interview @ NewYorker.com

From a substantive new interview with Joshua Rothman:

I had felt for many, many years that the form of the novel, as I used it, created a distance from life. When I started to write about myself, that distance disappeared. If you write about your life, as it is to yourself, every mundane detail is somehow of interest—it doesn’t have to be motivated by plot or character. That was my only reason for writing about myself. It wasn’t because I found myself interesting, it wasn’t because I had experienced something I thought was important and worth sharing, it wasn’t because I couldn’t resist my narcissistic impulses. It was because it gave my writing a more direct access to the world around me. And then, at some point, I started to look at the main character—myself—as a kind of place where emotions, thoughts, and images passed through.

Jessie Greengrass: "Sight"

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.

More Great Listening: Batuman & Sow

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 .

Michael Chabon on Being a Writer + Parent

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.

Cultural Notes: February 2018

Continuing for month two of this recent effort to note the cultural intake of the prior month: 

Read

Watched

  • Get Out (A+)
  • Room (B+)
  • Phantom Thread (A-)
  • 45 Years (A-)

Cultural Notes: January 2018

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.)

Read

Watched

  • The Big Sick (B+)
  • Columbus (A) — Unique and sensitive debut with such lovely and surprising  architecture.
  • The Sopranos, Final Season (A)

Listened To

  • 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. 

Lethem on Knausgaard: "My Hero"

After discovering this short appreciation in a Jonathan Lethem essay collection on bookish things, I just read it aloud to my wife, who'd been curious about why I've been so utterly taken by this series and increasingly hungry for each subsequent volume. Lethem nailed it ("Knausgaard's approach is plain and scrupulous, sometimes casual, yet he never writes down. His subject is the beauty and terror of the fact that all life coexists with itself."), and he was only one volume in.

A Father's Tradition

A Happy Fathers Day nod to a dad who passed down his now-40-year tradition of logging the culture he took in each year. He turned 75 today, and said he’s going to go back through his decades of notes and see what’s risen to the top. 

Our conversation moved me to page through my own logbook. Here, a few pics of pages covering books, films and concerts during the late 90s/early 2000s, a few years before my process went digital