odds and ends / 1.3.2019












Theodoor Willem Nieuwenhuis: January page from a calendar for 1896.

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Bode beaded tab jacket at Neighbour.

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Bug, bird, and flower tiles in stylist Maude Smith's London bathroom — she painted each one herself. (The kitchen encrusted in wine corks and seashells is also beyond.)

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Pretty Kamawanu Wafu furoshiki to brighten dull days from Moth.

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Charles Burchfeld: Tree Ghosts, 1919.

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At Granta: the best books of any year.

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Do you have a working definition of love? 
It’s a verb. That’s the first thing. It’s an active engagement with all kinds of feelings—positive ones and primitive ones and loathsome ones. But it’s a very active verb. And it’s often surprising how it can kind of ebb and flow. It’s like the moon. We think it’s disappeared, and suddenly it shows up again. It’s not a permanent state of enthusiasm.

Esther Perel, in conversation with Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker, 12/9/2018.

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The afterlife of broken art.

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The ugly history of beautiful things: perfumeangora. (I loved Katie Kelleher's color stories so I was thrilled to find her new-ish essays on Longreads.)

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So: what is glitter? 
A manipulation of humans’ inherent desire for fresh water. An intangible light effect made physical. Mostly plastic, and often from New Jersey. Disposable by design but, it turns out, not literally disposable. A way to make long winter nights slightly brighter, despite the offshore presence of Germans. An object in which the inside of a potato chip bag meets the aurora borealis.

Caity Weaver, 'What is Glitter?' NYT, 12/21/2018.

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The idea of the mind as a palace or church, whose individual rooms can be explored with training, is familiar from the memory treatises of antiquity and the Middle Ages. The “memory palace” as a mnemonic device was widely used before the advent of printing to organize and remember vast amounts of information. By memorizing the spatial layout of a building and assigning images or ideas to its various rooms, one could “walk” through the imaginary building and retrieve the ideas relegated to the separate parts.

Aysegul Savas, 'The Celestial Memory Palace.' The Paris Review, 12/7/2018.

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A business with no end. (NYT)

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The very worst fantasy of Zero Waste is that we can neatly atone for humanity’s destruction with these individual rituals of purification. That by purging our homes of single-use grocery bags, plastic toothbrushes, and disposable razors, we can breathe a sigh of relief. But truly imagining a Zero Waste world, one in which we don’t merely displace our trash but rather work toward a circular economy where trash is no longer produced, might guide us toward a more holistic vision of environmental justice.

Madeleine Wattenbarger, 'Waste Not, Want Not.' The Baffler, 12/19/2018.

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How to fall asleep in two minutes.

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Sweet potato toast.

'it didn't snow'

Despite the forecast's promise,
It didn't snow that night;
But in the morning, flakes began
To glide all right.
Not enough to cover roads
Or even hide the grass;
But enough to change the light.

Bernard O'Donoghue, 'Christmas.'

imaginary outfit: jólabókaflóð (and bookmarked books to give or get)


Somehow, just this year—a virtual age after it ricocheted around the internet echo chambers—I discovered jólabókaflóð — "Yule book flood," an Icelandic holiday tradition that involves exchanging new books on Christmas Eve, then spending the rest of the night curled up reading.

This is basically the holiday tradition I have been dreaming of my whole life.

After this brutal, bruising year, I find myself wishing I could gather everyone I care about in my home and give them comforting things: soup, soft slippers, a book to read. I imagine piles of blankets, pillows pulled from beds and heaped on the ground, people curled up everywhere reading. The sharp-sweet tang of clementine peels and the warm smell of toasted bread. The rustle of pages turning and the occasional pad of slippered feet; sometimes maybe the clink of a spoon. And then talk; torrents of talk, punctuated by laughter. A very humble sort of retreat before we gather ourselves together for whatever 2019 will bring.

I keep a haphazard list of things I want to read as the year ticks along; below are a few titles from that list. I haven't read them and can't vouch for them (though I may do a post in the new year on my favorite reads from 2018). They just sounded interesting to me, and maybe to you, too.

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Hilde Bouchez, Wild Things —A book full of clouds about the thingness of things.

Parul Seghal's NYT review of Inger Christensen's The Condition of Secrecy sold me:
The collection is slim and heady. Like all her writing, it aims to be a history of no less than everything: the origins of the stars and our souls, the beauty of fractals and of third-century Chinese poetry. It is a book about eating strawberries, witch-burning and the challenge that the soft, scumbled sides of clouds pose to geometry. It’s about standing in the garden and watching yellow slugs “moving like slow flames” in sunlight.
Mathias Énard, Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants. (Sometimes the title alone is enough to sway me.)

I somehow came across a review on roughghosts describing The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza as 'a subtle twist on the Latin American detective novel [that] is, in a sense, less of a mystery and more of a dreamlike exercise in mysteriousness.' And then I read the rest of the review and decided that I need to read it as soon as possible. (And every book Dorothy, a Publishing Project, touches is worth attention.)

A private source of rage is the self-help gospel of finding yourself in your work and the idea that work somehow defines who we are; given that so much of the work that supports U.S. society is soulless (or at least the work that pays and offers benefits), what does that say about what society thinks of people working service jobs? So Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, a novel about a woman who seemingly somehow finds total fulfillment in her work as a convenience store clerk, discomfiting her family, sounds wickedly appealing.

Like by the classicist A.E. Stallings offers an "archaeology of the domestic" and marries three central interests of mine: ancient literature, poetry, and motherhood.

A review in The Economist paired The Waterless Sea by Christopher Pinney, a book on the theory and history of mirages, with Nancy Campbell's The Library of Ice, and after I read it, it took most of my willpower not to drop everything and immediately start reading both.

I always like to browse Reaktion Books; they have books about badgers, the North Pole, shadows, and birch trees, among many delightful others.

Any book that describes ghosts as a whirling pile of hay is a book for me: The Ghost: A Cultural History, by Susan Owens.

An email from Lapham's Quarterly featured a beautiful excerpt from The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin, and I am saving it for a moment when my mind needs to visit the desert.

From the NYRB's description of The Adventures of Anatole by Nancy Willard: 'Anatole has a knack for seeking and finding adventure, often with Plumpet, his orange cat, who is accustomed to ghost trains, amnesiac soldiers, flying horses, and wallpaper portals'—well, sign me up.

My friend Amanda sent me a copy of Treasure Hunt House by Kate Davies and Becca Stadtlander; I haven't had time to do much more than gasp and swoon, but I am looking forward to reading it; it's a book my ten-year-old self would have adored, a lift-the-flap scavenger hunt through a marvelous house with all sorts of interesting history about curious objects.

To fulfill my needs for gossipy histories: In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter Annabella Milbanke and Ada Lovelace by Miranda Seymour.

Zadie Smith describes Karl Ove Knausgård's writing as 'like crack,' and I feel like I should read My Struggle, but I have already spent so much of my life reading the words of self-centered men. Fortunately, Uwe Johnson's Anniversaries just came out in translation; I can spend 1,700 pages reading about a woman instead (even if it is written by a dude).

Drew Gilpin Faust's wonderful piece about Pauli Murray made me ashamed at how little I knew about her; I need to read Song in a Weary Throat.

Anna Kavan's Ice sounds fantastic:
[A] vertiginous, time-looping narrative depicts an itinerant man’s obsessive stalking of an evanescent young woman—a platinum blonde, rail-thin 'glass girl'—across an apocalyptic, barely habitable landscape. Nebulous geopolitical calamities, including a possible nuclear detonation, are ushering in a new ice age. Yet the reader cannot distinguish between material reality and the hectic projection of the hero, who admits: 'I had a curious feeling I was living on several planes simultaneously; the overlapping of these planes was confusing.'
It's also embarrassingly clear to me that I need to read more writers of color; I'm looking forward to picking up Glory Edem's Well-Read Black Girl as a starting place.

Oh, and I am ferociously coveting The Folio Society's newish The South Polar Times, which collects and reprints all of the handmade newspapers Captain Scott's men made during their epic sojourn in Antarctica.

Last year I only read about 50-some books, so I've got to pick up the pace.

Merry everything, friends.

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Block print paisley pajamas from Toast / Tory Burch Inez heavy sweater / deer and cabin pyramid / L.L. Bean washable wool throw / C.P. Slippers / Heath Ceramics Bluejay lunch set / Satomi Kawakita tiny pearl earringsThe South Polar Times by The Folio Society.

the shortest day





Poem found in Popular Astronomy, Vol. 44, pg. 135. 1936.
Detail from 'Aurora Borealis' by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, in The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings, 1882.