A master list of the marginally useful (but hopefully amusing!) holiday gift guides compiled on this blog.
2019: To come.
Mycophiles (all ages)
Opinionated three-year-olds who love bright colors and the moon, among other things
Random gifts for specific people
Imaginary outfit: jólabókaflóð (and bookmarked books to give or get)
Dark gifts for witty women
Noisy, messy, and marvelous young children
Giftable books for specific readers
Commuters (all sorts)
Writers and readers
Collectors of curiosities
The dreamer of ice and snow
The reader of fairy tales
Also: gifts some mothers may enjoy: 2017 / 2018 / 2019
Christmas rush at the Washington post office. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. 1860 - 1920.
Check email; ask about proofreading gigs, update spreadsheets. Pick up kid from preschool. Stop at the big box store; look for a drying rack to corral muddy snowpants and wet mittens. Lunch; something in the freezer? Rake leaves; call grandparents. Text check-ins: pals, sister, parents. Library? Dinner: ground turkey in the fridge; sweet potatoes are still good, hopefully. Kiddo bath, book, bed. Scrabble until bedtime.
Teleport to unfamiliar walkable city with large, airy library. Request stack of books on a random theme: rock collections, the Holy Roman Empire, women in silent films, etc. Take notes. Stroll; find a strange little house museum celebrating an obscure personage. Wander through, admiring Latin mottos on floral china plates, hand-painted wallpaper, and cracked-leather Chesterfields. Wind up at dim publike bar. Summon Sean and Hugh via teleportation for warming meal of French onion soup and cheeseburgers. Arrive home. Kiddo bath, book, bed. Scrabble until bedtime.
Ladbroke blanket wrap / sweatshirt by The Great / Rollas jeans / Folk Cavi coat / Spalwart sneakers / NYPL tote / Ecoffee cup / Laura Lombardi mini portrait earrings / MHL felted cap.
Photograph by Ann Parker from Ephemeral Folk Figures: Scarecrows, Harvest Figures, and Snowmen by Avon Neal and Ann Parker, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. NY, 1969. Image found at Family Business.
I reached out my hand; thought and memory flew out of my enemies' heads like a flock of starlings;
My enemies crumpled like empty sacks.
I came to them out of mists and rain;
I came to them in dreams at midnight;
I came to them in a flock of ravens that filled a northern sky at dawn;
When they thought themselves safe I came to them in a cry that broke the silence of a winter wood ...
Susana Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell.
Detail from the left panel of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1510.
June Crisfield Chapman: Mrs. Ogmore Pritchard and Her Two Ghostly Husbands, ca. 1960s.
Excerpt from Dylan Thomas's "Under Milk Wood." (Listen here.)
A grandmother's prediction machine, ca. 1929-1932.
Eadweard Muybridge: Animal locomotion, plate 535, 1887.
‘It makes me creep to think of it even now,’ she said. ‘I woke up, all at once, with that dreadful feeling as if something were going to happen, you know! I was wide awake, and hearing every little strange sound for miles around, it seemed to me. There are so many strange little noises in the country for all it is so still.’
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Giant Wistaria." Quoted at Cunning Folk in an interview with Melissa Edmundson, editor of Women's Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890-1940.
The Times reported in 2005 that a property developer in Perthshire, Scotland, had been prevented from breaking the ground for some houses on land he had acquired because there was a fairy stone standing on it. Local people were seriously protesting against its removal: the rock was ancient, it covered the entrance to a fairy fort or hill, and it was extremely unlucky to move any such ancient monuments because the fairies would be upset… and take their revenge. The Times reporters joked, dubbing the locals’ beliefs “MacFeng shui”. They quoted the chairman of the local council with responsibility for granting planning permission: “‘I believe in fairies,’ she said, ‘but I can’t be sure they live under that rock.’ For her, the rock had historical and sacred importance because it was connected to the Picts and their kings had been crowned there.”
The builder’s bulldozers were stopped; since then, there has been no more news from St Fillan’s Perthshire.
Marina Warner, "The Man Who Taught Us to Believe in Fairies." The New Statesman, 7/3/2019.
It’s a recurring motif in folk horror that the countryside beckons to the characters as a place of hope. That events often culminate in graphic violence is a given: this is horror, after all. What is more interesting is the way in which these stories show how we’re seduced by the idea that the natural world is where we’ll find some kind of restoration, enlightenment and, ultimately, peace.
Andrew Michael Hurley, "Devils and debauchery: why we love to be scared by folk horror." The Guardian, 10/28/2019.
(Skip Midsommar, unless you really like flower crowns and hate grad students—it was too long and not scary; watch the deeply creepy 1973 Wicker Man instead.)
Ancient drowned forests, rising like zombies from the beachy sands, resurrected due to climate change.
The Public Domain Review, "Hokusai’s Ghost Stories (ca. 1830)."
Marianne Moore's fairy tales: "A wily cat, a strange romance, detestable daughters ..."
Hokusai directs his attention away from the Japanese landscapes he was most famous for depicting, inwards towards a realm of vengeful ghosts and demonic cannibals ... The series is fruit of the tradition Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai [A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales], where Japanese friends would meet to share fantastically frightening tales from folklore and their own experience. Having lit a hundred candles, they would give their blood-curdling accounts, one by one, blowing out a candle after each, plunging themselves deeper into darkness. Upon the last candle going out, a spirit was said to appear.
The Public Domain Review, "Hokusai’s Ghost Stories (ca. 1830)."
Filed under images that make a strong case for pink walls and objets galore: Stephen Kent Johnson's photographs of Gertrude Whitney's art studio at The Cut.
A wearable garden: Henrik Vibskov pumpkin blouse layered over pollen turtleneck at No. 6.
Something to listen to: Jake Xerxes Fussell, Out of Sight.
For rock collectors/crystal enthusiasts: Marc Du Plantier's unique floor lamp, ca. 1950.
Painted table by Sophie von Hellermann, photographed by Ross See for Luncheon. (Do I need to find a table to paint? Maybe.)
This will be impossible to tweet. It always is. How do you siphon 2,500 words into 280 characters? More importantly, how do you turn a measured thesis into something interesting, and by interesting I mean shareable, and by shareable I mean divisive.
Soraya Roberts, "End of Discussion." Joker as a case study illustrating why social media is a platform for emotion, not discussion.
The publisher, the editor, the advertising manager, and the circulation man must conspire not only to get all their readers from one particular class to which the magazine is dedicated, but rigorously to exclude all others.
Condé Nast, the inventor of lifestyle magazines.
I have complained a lot about men in my time. In fact, I do it more and more. But I have never been part of what used to be called the women’s movement and those who have or who are, or who have never wanted to be, would probably consider me some sort of moron. I didn’t do consciousness-raising with my sisters in the late Sixties. I was married at the time and it seemed to me that if my consciousness were raised another millimeter I would go out of my mind.
Mary-Kay Wilmers, from Human Relations and Other Difficulties, quoted in the NYT 10/24/2019 by Wyatt Mason: "How Mary-Kay Wilmers Became Britain's Most Influential Editor."
She was one of those women, they believed, who had succumbed to a strange bout of middle-aged craziness. She wasn’t poor. She wasn’t an addict or an alcoholic. And from what people who knew her said, she was utterly harmless—“A sweet lady who once chatted with me about the best way to grow plants on the front porch,” one neighbor noted.
Skip Hollandsworth, "The Last Ride of Cowboy Bob." Texas Monthly, November 2005.
Having always liked older faces on other people, and thinking the best faces were the ones that looked like life had been lived in them, I understand now why people fear wrinkles. Wrinkles are a visible end to choices, to a life of infinite possibilities. They tell us that we have to make peace with the decisions we have made, or that we didn’t even realise we were making. They are a door that is closing on our own face. Which is why anti-ageing products, those little teases, sneak up to whisper to us that we can carry on dithering forever. Dithering is wonderful.
Sophie Heawood on growing older, Evening Standard Magazine 10/24/2019.
Catherine Texier: "I'm 72. So what?"
Climate confessions: "I still use plastic bags." "I want to use mass transportation but it's so unreliable and crowded." "I know the meat industry is horrible for climate change, but I just can't find a satisfactory diet with no meat."
"I used to say 'It would take a lot to ruin a taco!' but now I know it only takes one thing—chickpeas."
A running question I recall from my time on “The Daily Show” came from columnists and pundits musing, Why is there no right-wing “Daily Show”? And we would glibly, pridefully answer that the right could not be funny because it was, by nature, authoritarian, prudish, untruthful and dull. This was a comforting lie. Now we know that Trump was the right-wing “Daily Show” all along, but in a highly sophisticated form we never expected. We never expected that the right-wing “Daily Show” was going to be Andy Kaufman. We didn’t expect it to be a single, intensely weird and ultimately unknowable performance artist who would never break character. And he would not have his own television show but hijack all the television shows as well, as well as all those apps, streams and formats old TV didn’t understand, to surround us all in a MAGA-themed immersive theater experience the size and shape of the whole country.
John Hodgman, NYT 10/14/2019.
Unfazed, he crouched down on the sidewalk and snorted a line of live ants.
Elisa Gabbert, "Nostalgia for a Less Innocent Time: On the glory and depravity of hair metal." The Paris Review, 10/19/2019.
In our daily lives we cannot help moving in relation to our surroundings, to some objects or persons, and to a great extent, according to the harmony or disharmony of these relations, our lives become harmonised or disharmonised.
Margaret Morris, 1891-1980.
After seeing the second image uncredited on Instagram, I did a bit of sleuthing and found that it shows the choreography of Margaret Morris. Photos and quote found at Irenebrination, where there is more on Morris, a pioneer of modern dance and dance therapy, to read and see.
I find myself at 41 two people. Maybe that's not quite precise enough—two implies a balance, but the me I am and this other me are not true equals. She is more like a golem, constructed through my motion and attention, shaped by demographic categories. (Golems are a particularly heartbreaking bit of folklore; made of inanimate matter, usually mute, never quite human, stuck symbolizing something.) She gestures to me from ads and search results, more interested than I am in skincare and chickpeas and ethically made organic cotton t-shirts, willing to watch shows that bore me and read books by authors I dislike. She is, at most, a bad best guess. There's an odd pleasure, encountering this algorithmic shadow self. The wrongness is gratifying, a reassurance that somehow the many online patterns I trace do not quite add up to who I am.
I suppose I should enjoy this feeling while it lasts, because somewhere in the background some combination of machine learning and natural language processing and other as yet unknown to me forms of evolving artificial intelligence are mutating into something that can extract more useful value out of everything I've shared online (and this blog is over a decade old; there is a lot there) and my own puny self-satisfaction at my minor human specialness will sizzle to vapor like an ice cube dropped on a hotplate.
It's funny to think about how a computer might piece together the person I've been and the person I'll become. Selves are a weird, shifty business. How will they ever know what to remember and what to forget? Myself at 41 nods acquaintance to myself at 31, and we both recall 21; 11 is harder, and one is buried too deep.
Eleven-year-old me had a stack of loved books read over and over; one was Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess. If Sara Crewe had kept her riches and her attic, I think she might've worn this outfit, and so would I, both then and now—a silk velvet dressing gown the color of the wheat in that painting by Bruegel the Elder; soft dull crimson slippers. A bracelet heavy with glass gems and a richly patterned scarf; earrings made of horn fashioned like small sailing ships. Gormenghast and a licorice pipe are additions made by a me located somewhere between then and now who learned to enjoy stranger, sharper tastes.
And now all this, whatever it is, singular or not, is not mine alone anymore; it's out there for the machines to read and make of what they will. But nothing here is a thing the computer could think to show me, at least not yet. I still had the pleasure of finding it all myself.
A look that sits somewhere beyond my algorithmic shadow: silk velvet dressing gown / Etro scarf (resale) / Gabriella Kiss ship earrings / Victorian glass Tassie bracelet / velvet gondolier slippers by The Row / licorice pipe / Gormenghast.
Incidentally, this expensive robe has the very best user review I have ever read. Under the title, "THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF CLOTHING I OWN," Minnie19 writes:
I feel like a medieval queen wearing this. It feels antique but somehow manages to pull off the trick of being understated, austere, even though it is undeniably luxe. I think it's the wide sleeves, the kimono style finish to the front of the robe and the weight of the fabric, which give it a kind of gravitas that comes with something simple and beautifully made. Its the kind of gown you wear for reading poems on a fainting couch but would serve you well when plotting a war.