Archive for the 'Things I love' Category

Three things I recommend.

Friday, June 26th, 2009

My friend Ayse’s tumblog, which has lots of beautiful things in it (and a candid dose of her political views).

The Lateral Action blog, which talks a lot about how to be creative and disciplined at the same time. (A good place to start: “The Shakespearean Guide to Entrepreneurship.”)

Anderson’s Coffee, the best-smelling place in Austin. If you live in Austin and you love coffee, you owe it to yourself to try a pound from Anderson’s.~

(Image by Leo Reynolds, used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.)

Getting choosy with The New Yorker.

Saturday, June 21st, 2008
No, not that kind of New Yorker.

The first time I ever bought a copy of The New Yorker, I was in Honolulu’s airport on my way to Tokyo. I had just turned 16, and was setting off on the main leg of the biggest traveling adventure of my youth: a two-month group study tour, without my parents, that included two weeks in Hawaii and six weeks in the People’s Republic of China. It was 1988 — one year before the Tiananmen Sqaure crackdown.

Memory won’t tell me what, exactly, was on the cover of that issue, but I remember that it was a cartoon in a pastel shade of green. It might have been by Saul Steinberg. But I loved it — the cover, the long stories inside, the cartoon, the typefaces, the Jazz Age/midcentury sensibility that has made this high-middlebrow magazine a standard for culture to generations of educated middle-class Americans.

It was also, of course, the perfect thing to read on a long plane flight: the variety of articles, especially when mixed in with cartoons, fiction, and poetry, held the attention. When you were done, you felt like you had learned something, while also getting a glimpse into a world that was considerably removed from the quiet slice of suburbia where I lived in West Texas. Regardless of what The New Yorker‘s articles addressed, the magazine really represented that certain sensibility, slightly anachronistic but unquestionably more stylish than the way that most of its readers have lived.

More than a decade later, I did my first piece of grade-A commercial writing when I wrote a review (now lost, alas) of Ben Yagoda’s history of The New Yorker, About Town, for the late, great online magazine Blue Ear. It was the first time I had ever been given a free review copy of a book, and I worked like a dog to live up to what I thought of as a high honor. Later, I used that review as a writing sample for the Austin Chronicle’s books department, which led to more reviews and more writing samples that helped me land my job at Hoover’s, where I still work.

Not that New Yorker, either.

Along the way, The New Yorker has been an inconstant but welcome companion. I clearly recall the day of my undergraduate career when a friend showed me the very first issue of the magazine to include a photograph in its editorial pages. The picture was of Malcolm X, and its inclusion represented a “bold” departure by the then-editor, Tina Brown.

Over the years of our marriage, my wife and I have subscribed to The New Yorker for long runs, and when we lived in New York for a year in the 1990s, my wife discovered the great utility of a weekly magazine with so much editorial content (all those long stories). It was the perfect thing to read on the subway, and you could actually read the whole magazine every week. These days, I still love to see a new New Yorker on the coffee table, but often I leave it unread, or just flip through to look at the cartoons. (My father-in-law loves the cartoon-captioning contest that was introduced to the back page a few years ago; I have no taste for it.) Anything I do read from it I choose from the contents page, because I can’t afford to get mired in so much material every week. I’ve got a job to do — several, in fact — and this Ph.D. won’t finish itself, either.

Not that the choices are always easy. Sure, there are issues when very little in the magazine appeals to me specifically; those are the ones I set aside unread. Sometimes I find one piece that I know I want to read (like the Haruki Murakami essay from which I quoted in the prior entry); when that happens, I get in and out of the magazine like a commando, not stopping for any of its other temptations.

And then there are issues like the latest one to hit our mailbox (June 23, 2008), which reminds me of the downside of my intellectual omnivorosity. Let’s just pick some highlights, eh?

  • Peter Boyer writes “One Angry Man: Keith Olbermann’s rants and ratings.” — Okay, I’d like to read this, because (a) I’ve been following Olbermann’s career since his SportsCenter days, (b) I’ve seen plenty of these rants and think that Olbermann plays a tonic role in today’s media discourse (such as it is) about politics, (c) Boyer’s a good writer, and (d) I’m especially interested in an old-media notable, in this case from television, who has such a strong presence (via YouTube etc.) on the Internet. On the other hand, (a) ALL of the writers for The New Yorker are good, to the point that it’s not even worth calling out, and (b) I’ve told myself that I’m not going to read any more politics this year. I know how I’m voting in November, I have no time or money to give to political activism this year, and I simply have more pressing things to do with my time.
  • George Saunders writes a “Shouts & Murmurs” casual/humor piece called “Antiheroes.” — Saunders is the favorite living fiction writer of my pal Austin Kleon, as is borne out by Austin’s many blog posts about him. So I’d like to give this a read, even though I might not be drawn to read it otherwise.
  • John Seabrook writes an “Annals of Technology” piece, “Hello, HAL: The batle to make computers understand.” — I used to be a technology writer for Hoover’s, and I see the development of information technology as an overlooked element in mainstream academic history writing, so I’m tempted to read this for my own enlightenment.
  • Jon Lee Anderson writes “Fidel’s Heir: Hugo Chavez’s big ambitions.” — Have I mentioned that I’m getting a Ph.D. in the recent history of U.S. foreign relations and that it focuses on the worldwide oil business? This article would seem to be germane.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes a fictional story, “The Headstrong Historian.” — First, I studied a fair amount of African history in my Ph.D. coursework. Second, I’ve been reading more short fiction lately as I try to work on stories of my own. Third, this one has “historian” in the title. I sigh.
  • James Wood and John Updike write reviews of novels I probably will never read, but I want to know what they have to say about them — again because I’m working on my fiction chops.
  • David Denby writes reviews of “The Incredible Hulk” and “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” — neither of which I’m likely to see. But I read the reviews anyway because I like Denby’s viewpoint.

A-a-a-and, next thing you know, you’ve read a third of a book’s worth of material, while the actual books that I actually must read — to finish my Ph.D., to finish other scholarly pieces, to review for my professional blog, etc. — still sit in stacks on the floor around my desk. That’s not to mention the books that fill an entire bookcase in my living room, or the scores of books that I want to read after my Ph.D., which I’ve boxed up and stored in the garage to keep them from tempting me.

That’s a cat after my own heart.

Which brings me to my real topic: trying to strike a balance between the sort of omnivorous reading that has always fed my imagination, and the sort of targeted reading that feeds real expertise in a given field.

When I write it down that way, the choice isn’t so hard, because my imagination is pretty well-fed already. More accurately, it’s morbidly obese, what with the hundreds of half-developed ideas for pieces — fiction, essays, scholarship, blog posts, magazine articles, poems, et cetera ad nauseam — that populate my world and my mind. When I’m honest with myself, the meter on my idea tank is pegged at More-than-Aplenty. I do need to keep up the pace of my reading, and even increase it, but not with the sort of miscellaneous matter that comes in each week’s New Yorker. Just looking at the reading material I have within arm’s reach, in fact, I’d be better served to spend my serendipitous browsing time with the Journal of American History and the American Historical Review, the latest issues of which — each with an unusual number of articles of interest to me — arrived in the mail this week.

Of course, it’s hard to tell the imagination-glutton that he can’t have his ice cream anymore. But — for now, at least — it’s true. Again, I sigh, but it’s for the best.

This, then, is not a final parting with my dear New Yorker, but merely au revoir. We will meet again . . . after I’ve gotten my imagination into fighting trim.


(Photo credits: Chrysler by Brain Toad; hotel by syvwlch; cat & magazine by aturkus.)

You know what’s satisfying?

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

A good day of research — confirming that you will, indeed, be able to deliver what you’ve promised to deliver when your next conference rolls around — interspersed with enjoying the Return of Sunshine to our fair city, followed by a dinner party with friends + many kids.

At least, I’m feeling satisfied with same.


Recommended: Elle-a-Belle Designs.

Friday, October 19th, 2007

We’re headed into a heavy gift-giving season, so let me recommend this jeweler if you have lovely ladies to whom you’d like to give something exquisite: Elle a Belle Designs.

For our anniversary this year, I gave my wife this necklace


which is gorgeous and fabulous and awesome, as if that weren’t obvious from the picture. She loves it!

Why shop from this jeweler at the Etsy store?

  • You’re supporting an independent artisan instead of some big faceless outfit. Let small-scale creativity reign!
  • You’re giving your loved one something unique, not a cookie-cutter gift.
  • Elle-a-Belle shipped my necklace super-pronto in a neat little gift box. The jeweler was a dream to work with.
  • The Etsy interface is easy to use.

Now, go get your honey something lovely!

A tiny, tiny complaint about my iPod nano.

Friday, September 7th, 2007

My wife, who is composed entirely of awesome, got me an iPod nano for our anniversary last month. (Oh, wait, I think I already mentioned that.) I love-love-love it, especially in the gym, where I use it to drown out the typically execrable music they pipe in.

But here’s what I don’t get: Why aren’t the earbuds designed better? As iconic as the white-corded things are . . . they’re just not very elegant. The sound is great, and they look kinda cool, but they slip around in your ears, and stowing the cord is a kludgy trick at best.

No idea how Apple would improve them, but, heck, that’s what Steve Jobs pays all those awesome designers for, right? I mean, if he’s going to design the player to be so cool that you’ll s**t in your pants, why can’t he give a little more design love to the headphones?

Things I love: Bruce Eric Kaplan’s cartoons.

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

My favorite New Yorker cartoonist is Bruce Eric Kaplan. A great cartoon in this week’s issue led me to dig around for Kaplan info online; I was surprised to find out that, besides being a cartoonist, he’s also a television writer, most notably for Six Feet Under. Here are more links for your delectation:

–Kaplan’s work at The New Yorker Store, so you can see samples of his cartoons.

–An interview with Kaplan at An excerpt:

You submitted to the New Yorker for three years before they accepted one of your cartoons. Have you since then tried to resubmit a cartoon they originally rejected?

No, I never look back at my old work. But I do tend to rework a lot of similar themes so I am sure I have unconsciously resubmitted very similar cartoons to ones that were rejected many years ago.

(This is a good reminder to be persistent when you’re trying to make your breaks in an artistic profession.)

–A Mediabistro excerpt from Kaplan’s 2004 book, This Is a Bad Time.

–The Wikipedia entry on Kaplan, which I’ve updated with information on his books.

I hope you enjoy his cartoons as much as I do.

Attention, information junkies!

Monday, June 18th, 2007

You may want to get your info fix — repeatedly — by using the resources listed here:

The Best Online Research Apps/Sites You’ve Never Heard Of

That is all.

So, just in case anybody’s looking for a gift for me . . .

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

. . . may I suggest an Airstream Bambi? I’ve been wanting something like this for my home office ever since Kathy Sierra posted about her own Airstream office a few months back.

So, if you were looking for just the right gift for yours truly, and happen to have the odd few-dozen-thousand $$ stashed for the purpose . . . now you know where to start!

Austin food recommendation: Russell’s Bakery

Monday, November 27th, 2006

A friend put me onto Russell’s a few months ago, and since then I’ve been back periodically, often to ply my kids with the bakery’s waaaaaaaay-above-average cinnamon rolls. They also have good coffee, and I can verify that their fruit-flavored birthday cakes are creamy and fluffy and altogether outstanding. This is the type of bakery you would go to for a wedding cake.

I’m thinking of this afresh because I stopped by Russell’s last week to pick up some pies for Thanksgiving. I mean, when you have family coming into town for Thanksgiving, the last thing you want to do is run out of pie. The apple pie was good enough that I didn’t even wait for Thanksgiving itself to roll around before I dived right in. (I did this while fending off the dagger-stares of my lovely wife, who has a greater sense of propriety in these things.) As I write this, I’ve just had a largish dinner and a couple of gooey, hot chocolate cookies. If you put another Russell’s apple pie in front of me, I might yet try to eat a quarter of it.

And then there was . . . the pumpkin bourbon pecan pie. “Pie” isn’t quite right — it was a little more like a custard tart — but wow was it something. Rich? Like Croesus, if you’re into that sort of thing. Bourbon-y? Oh sweet yes. Delicious? Mmm-hmmm.

If you’re in Austin and you like you some good baked goods, check out Russell’s. Oh, and they also apparently serve sandwiches and whatnot for lunch, not that I would notice in my obsessive quest for the fruits of the baker’s art. Anyway, here’s their menu.

Things I love: Cool Tools.

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

It occurs to me that some of you out there might not be familiar with Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools list. Simplest, here, would be to quote the beginning of Kelly’s own description:

Cool tools really work. A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. I am chiefly interested in stuff that is extraordinary, better than similar products, little-known, and reliably useful for an individual or small group.

So you sign up by recommending for inclusion some Cool Tool from your own life. Even if Kelly doesn’t use it, you’re on the list, so you receive occasional e-mails chock full o’ tooly goodness. Meanwhile, you can dig around the site to see greatest hits from past lists.

Kelly himself is quite a piece of work: photographer, author, Wired magazine eminence grise, et cetera.

Cool Tools.