Laser Targeted At My Teenaged Self
Busy week—guests over and work ramping up—so not much to say by way of introduction. But, again, I’m featuring Sherry’s Inktober artwork from Instagram.
What I’m Watching
Sherry and I have been trying to catch up on the latest season of Terrace House—we’ve tried to watch previous seasons but always felt a bit late to the game. Of course, it’s basically one big ad for Japan (I wonder if it’s sponsored by some Japanese tourism bureau 🤔), but I think what really makes the show so engrossing is its emphasis on body language—the show is really a masterclass in editing to catch all the tiny glances and signals exchanged between people. It’s a lot like Evangelion in that way—probably a byproduct of Japanese culture, in both cases. Anyway, I’m 100% on board with Yamachan’s conspiracy theory that Kenny is leading everybody on and just there to promote his band 🙃
What I’m Reading
I’m just starting on a big thick textbook (?) called Buddhisms: An Introduction. It is, in fact, an introduction to Buddhism(s).
Instead of Number One Chinese Restaurant I picked up Weike Wang’s Chemistry which was a good decision. It’s a tiny little book (I think it took me two hours?), but it’s so very, very lovely. The first-person narration has a rather strange, unidiomatic cadence, but somehow it nevertheless works, granting you full access to the thoughts of the narrator, a struggling graduate student who may or may not be based on Wang herself. It’s funny (the narrator maintains a strikingly familiar deadpan attitude throughout) and also sad, in a hopeful, cathartic way. Look, it’s just really good, okay? I recommend 👍
As a big fan of Robin Sloan’s one-year-only newletter Year of the Meteor, I finally read his debut Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which is, sure enough, about a mysterious bookstore open 24 hours. I liked it (enough to consider reading his followup Sourdough, at least), but it’s rather laser-targeted at a teenaged Russell’s interests (Hitchhiker’s Guide and Wes Anderson films both play small roles in the plot), so I’m not sure I could really recommend it to anybody else. The plot isn’t exactly original, and the writing style feels rather YA—the characters act weirdly immature and horny for their mid-20s, bringing to mind teenagers from a John Green novel rather than the yuppy tech workers I know, with an uncomfortable running joke that the narrator’s best friend is a multi-millionaire for developing… a boob physics engine for video games? Plus the fetishization of Google (Sloan clearly has some friends there) might have made sense in 2012, but it hasn’t really aged well, and his depiction of San Francisco is ahem slightly romanticized.
But… I liked it! It’s just so charming, and Sloan is just insightful enough (though it comes through more in his newsletter, which I will dearly miss come the end of the year), that I couldn’t help but grin all the way through to the saccharine-sweet-but-still-lovely ending. Plus, again—laser targeted at a teenaged Russell. If I read this around age 14 it would probably be one of my favorites of all time. But, alas, I’m only reading it now.
Perhaps unsurprisingly (given it’s Sloan’s favorite novel of all time—it “made him,” the way Hitchhiker’s Guide made me), it reminds me a lot of The Westing Game—stylistically, well, maybe (because, despite loving it with all my heart, I barely remember The Westing Game at all), but more how it sits precariously somewhere between YA and “adult” literature, happily just… being its own thing.
I should reread The Westing Game.
What I’m Listening To
I thought I’d be spending the past two weeks listening to early-90s Chinese alt rock, which did partly happen, but then my attention was dragged away by The Caretaker’s An empty bliss beyond this world, an album which I’m convinced is a.) cursed and b.) is haunting me, specifically. It’s basically a combination of the haunted ballroom from The Shining and playing music for Alzheimer’s patients to help them remember. Despite basically being snippets of old-timey big band music put through a couple filters Instagram-style, it’s probably one of the spookiest/best albums I’ve ever heard.
I also finally got around to William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops, which is of course one of the best ambient albums of all time, no support for that statement needed.
I tried to listen to the New York Times’ 1619 companion podcast, of which I’ve heard much high praise, but, maybe because I went to a particularly progressive high school, I don’t find it particularly new or interesting. Like, yes, of course the history of America is in large part a history of slavery and its aftermath! I don’t mean to dismiss it entirely out of hand—obviously some people need to hear it —but I just don’t find it adds all that much to the conversation for those who already know a bit about American history. On the other hand, You Must Remember This (which, you might remember, had a season on Charles Manson that I raved about all summer) is now doing a season on Disney’s “long lost” 1946 film Song of the South, and I found the first episode to already be a much more precise analysis of the influence of slavery on American media, even a century removed! Basically, You Must Remember This is great and you should listen.
What I’m Learning
We bought a digital piano—a Yamaha P71, to be precise—and I’ve found that I enjoy practicing much more than I did as a child. So: Trois gymnopedies? ✔️ Clair de lune? Only half a checkmark for that one, but it is coming along. (On a related note, I recently found out Sherry didn’t know about the IMSLP Petrucci Music Library, which is an absolute treasure trove of out-of-copyright sheet music and highly recommended.) I’ve also been trying to pick up guitar (again), though I’ve switched to Sherry’s acoustic rather than my electric because I think it will promote good technique. I’m trying to get the E-shape barre chord down (no teacher necessary, thanks to Justin Guitar) and it’s slowly coming along. I want to start learning to draw now too 😔
I’m still working on Beautiful Racket and 100 Days of SwiftUI (though I haven’t exactly been keeping up with the latter), though I took a break to check out Beautiful Racket author Matthew Butterick’s other book, Butterick’s Practical Typography, which was nice, though it’s a little too “practical” for my tastes.