I just finished Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. I really enjoyed it without really knowing what to make of it. It’s structured in a stream-of-consciousness way, with distinct sections (which aren’t quite chapters) that sometimes relate to what’s come before with a dream logic. Here are some of my favourite sections, or at least a couple that got me thinking.
There are countries where people speak English. But not like us — we have our own languages hidden in our carry-on luggage, in our cosmetics bags, only ever using English when we travel, and then only in foreign countries, to foreign people.
When I was at university, me and some friends founded a music magazine and ran it for a few years before handing it off to the next generation of students when we graduated. It ran on for a few years after we left and then closed.
I noticed recently that the hosting was about to expire, so I exported the magazine’s content and turned it into a basic static site so it wasn’t lost forever.
This guy has been collecting all the “Best x of the 2010s” lists that have been appearing in the past few weeks into an impressive list of lists.
Here are some of my highlights:
The Most Important Artworks of the 2010s (ARTnews) Top 25 Film Scores of the 2010s (CoS) The 20 Best Video Games Of The Decade, Ranked (BuzzFeed) The 20 Best Works of Nonfiction of the Decade (LitHub) The Worst Takes of The 2010s (The Outline)
These are the books I most enjoyed reading in 2019, compiled from my Goodreads Reading Challenge.
Fiction A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimar McBride Catch-22 by Joseph Heller A Perfect Spy by John Le Carré Enigma Variations by André Aciman The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai Non-Fiction The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things by George Lakoff Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples by Bede The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks Queer City by Peter Ackroyd
This excerpt from 24/6 by Tiffany Shlain makes the case for setting aside a day to go tech free: ditching phones and laptops and screens for the day. It’s come along just at the right time for me, as I’m generally shrinking away from tech outside of my work life more and more.
I like the way the article describes what you might need a tech-free day: a basic watch, a pen, and a little notebook containing some emergency phone numbers.
I read the Penguin Classics translation of Wasps by Aristophanes the other day. It’s a satirical play about how an older generation of Athenians who fought in the Peloponnesian War were taken in by a pandering demagogue called Cleon. To grasp what’s happening and get the jokes, you have to know a little bit about the context of Athenian politics at the time and how the jury system worked. But all of that is explained in a very quick note at the beginning of the edition.
There were lots of interesting and terrible things in Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini but here’s something that stood out. Eugenics was a widely respected field of study around the time of the turn of the 20th century, well before the rash of state-sponsored genocide programs we now associate with Nazis etc. University College London established a Eugenics Record Office, that aimed to study races of man and conct the best ways to hone the (presumably white) superior race to perfection.
I was vaguely aware that the French language is basically policed by the Académie Française, but I’d never seen this statistic that really shows how small the base French vocabulary is. Aptly enough I saw it in this article about the French propensity to say… no.
there are 500,000 words in the English language, but only 70,000 in French
— The Culture Map by Erin Meyer via BBC
James Meek (author of Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs To Someone Else) did a great profile of new Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mog. It sums up the argument incredibly well that the stuffy all-English persona he affects in Parliament is at odds with his source of income in a transnational investment firm. Meek goes deep on the problematic network of offshore financial instruments used to shroud Mogg’s investment firm in secrecy, which makes sense given his work on Private Island.
I started reading Little by Edward Carey without knowing what it was about. Soon it emerged that it’s a fictionalisation of the life of Madame Tussaud based on her memoirs. It is typical of a revolutionary French narrative in that it involves a exploited child orphan, the beautiful disarray of Paris at the time, and finally: no shortage of chance encounters with significant historical figures that begin to stretch the reader’s credulity.