pretty pink things / a billet-doux


Heart cockles, via the Natural History Museum, London.

Sam Gilliam, "Blue Edge," 1971, acrylic on canvas, The Baltimore Museum of Art via David Kordansky Gallery.


A Rudolph Steiner interior in Dornoch, Switzerland. Photo by Deidi von Schaewen, via Commune.


Victorain shell cameo, ca. 1850, via Sian Harlow Antiques.


An 1817 "cobweb" valentine, featured in "Victorian Romance: The Art of Cobweb Valentines." The recipient would gently pull the string in the center to reveal a hidden image.


Nacreous cloud formation, photographed over Kingston Upon Hull, United Kingdom, via The Cloud Appreciation Society.

Slight unpremeditated Words are borne
By every common Wind into the Air;
Carelessly utter’d, die as soon as born,
And in one instant give both Hope and Fear:
Breathing all Contraries with the same Wind
According to the Caprice of the Mind.

But Billetdoux are constant Witnesses,
Substantial Records to Eternity;
Just Evidences, who the Truth confess,
On which the Lover safely may rely;
They’re serious Thoughts, digested and resolv’d;
And last, when Words are into Clouds devolv’d.

Aphra Behn, "Love's Witness." 

odds and ends / 1.29.2024

Edvard Munch, "Winter Landscape, Thüringen," 1906. Kunstmuseum Bergen.


Garnet and rose quartz necklaces by Marie-Hélène de Taillac, via Twist.


Guglielmo Veronesi, “Perla” chair, ca. 1952. Via Commune Design.


Calendar watch made in 1650 by Thomas Alcock that indicates "the time of tides (presumably at London bridge), mean solar time, the age of the moon in its monthly cycle, and the day of the month." Alcock lost a similar watch in 1661 and advertised for it in the February 1661 issue of Kingdoms Intelligencer. In the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Child's creamware cup, ca. 1830s, via oldasadam.


Snow monster
 (or, how I feel by January's end).

In interviews collected in the book Starting Point: 1979-1996, Miyazaki referred to a universal “yearning for a lost world” he refused to call nostalgia, since even children experience it. We long not for what we remember, but what we’ve never experienced at all, only sensed beneath reality’s surface.

Alissa Wilkinson, "'The Boy and the Heron' Review: Hayao Miyazaki Has a Question for You." NYT, 11/21/2023.

We seemed to be developing a brittle incapacity to accept, let alone honor, the tender, tragic feeling that had always lain beneath the ordinary person’s experience of nostalgia. In his once famous essay “Old China,” Charles Lamb located nostalgia in “the hope that youth brings” and which time extinguishes. What we are always most nostalgic for is, in fact, the future, the one we imagined only to see it turn into the past. The actress Helen Hayes used to tell a story of how her young prospective husband poured some peanuts into her hand and said, “I wish they were emeralds.” Years later, when he was actually able to give her a little bag of emeralds, he did so saying, “I wish they were peanuts”—which, with whatever excess of sweetness, about sums it up. Nostalgia is built into us ...

Thomas Mallon, "Nostalgia Isn't what it Used to Be." The New Yorker, 11/20/2023. 

I subscribe to Vittles online magazine, because reading evocative writing about food I’m too lazy and incompetent to prepare or seek out is one of my favourite hobbies, and because I always learn something. In a recent edition, I discovered a captivating Korean suffix. “There are no thoughts, just meong, the suffix in Korean used for activities of staring into stillness, like bull meong—staring into the fire,” wrote the author, Songsoo Kim, in a beautiful article with recipes about preparing a feast that I would dearly love to eat, but absolutely will not cook.

As a black belt starer into stillness—it’s my other favourite hobby—this spoke to me deeply. I asked Kim about it and she explained meong (also written mung) is colloquially used to describe zoning out, but without a negative connotation. This, she explained, was 'an organic linguistic development, as more and more people started mentioning how staring at the fire at campsites or fireplaces together is rather healing.' There are also forest, foliage and water versions of quiet, empty staring and cafes where you can 'hit mung.' 'It’s a moment we all need,' Kim said.

Emma Beddington, "Is this the year of meong—a wellbeing trend I can actually master?The Guardian, 1/22/2024. 

A turtle staggered from the waves, wearily dug a shallow hole, and commenced to drop her lovely eggs. Amber had no wish to witness this; she could no longer bear to watch struggling nature. She shut her eyes, feeling that the very act of not looking was helping the turtle out in some way.

Joy Williams, "The Beach House." The New Yorker, 1/15/2024.

I’m not sure that I have the qualifications to give people advice about reasons to live. My daily affective state is one of great despair about the incredible destructive forces at work in this world—not only at the level of climate. What has been going on in the Middle East just adds to this feeling of destructive forces completely out of control. The situation in the world, as far as I can tell, is incredibly bleak. So how do we live with what we know about the climate crisis? Sometimes I think that the meaning of life is to not give up, to keep the resistance going even though the forces stacked against you are overwhelmingly strong. 

Andreas Malm, interviewed by David Marchese in the NYT, 1/16/2024. 

Mitchell is one of a new breed of biologists who espouse a complex-systems perspective as an antidote to reductionism. He aims to reclaim from the philosophers words like purpose, reason, and meaning, which scientists often avoid as being unquantifiable. He mostly eschews jargon. This is a plainspoken book. It gets mildly technical in matters of biology and neuroscience, but it builds an argument that is methodical and crisp, and it cuts through years of disputation like a knife through cotton candy. This is what you are, Mitchell asserts: “You are the type of thing that can take action, that can make decisions, that can be a causal force in the world: you are an agent.”

If the denial of free will has been an error, it has not been a harmless one. Its message is grim and etiolating. It drains purpose and dignity from our sense of ourselves and, for that matter, of our fellow living creatures. It releases us from responsibility and treats us as passive objects, like billiard balls or falling leaves.

James Glieck, "The Fate of Free Will." The New York Review, 1/18/2024. 

The “how” is just as important as the “what,” if not more so. It turns out that the how actually is the what—or at least cannot be separated from it. They share one nervous system, and that oneness is what allows style to matter.

David Salle, "Follow the Light.The New York Review, 1/18/2024. 

Guy Davenport ... credited his critical acumen to a childhood spent treasure hunting. Sundays after church, his dad took him to scour fields throughout the South for arrowheads:

What lives brightest in the memory of these outings is a Thoreauvian feeling of looking at things—earth, plants, rocks, textures, animal tracks, all the secret places of the out-of-doors that seem not ever to have been looked at before, a hidden patch of moss with a Dutchman’s Breeches stoutly in its midst, aromatic stands of rabbit tobacco, beggar’s lice, lizards, the inevitable mute snake, always just leaving as you come upon him, hawks, buzzards, abandoned orchards rich in apples, peaches or plums … The search was the thing, the pleasure of looking … My sense of place, of occasion, even of doing anything at all, was shaped by those afternoons.

That’s vintage Davenport. Effortlessly, unabashedly learned; tender beneath its professorial carapace; vaguely excessive. John Jeremiah Sullivan ... writes, “He once defined ‘despair’ as the sensation that you’ve run out of ideas.” I wonder how that sensation registered to “the man who noticed that ‘in all of Balthus’ one finds no clocks.”

Dan Piepenbring, "New Books.Harpers, January 2024. (Sold me on this.)


imaginary outfit: convalescing

For the past six weeks, I've been on the mend after having an errant clump of mysterious cells roughly the size and shape of a sweet potato extracted from my midsection. After navigating a season of increasingly unsettling spells of testing and waiting, the definitiveness of surgery was a relief. A plan! Something would be done, something would be known. In the end, I lucked out—an "easy" surgery, with small incisions, that removed the best kind of benign tumor to have. (That pathology report, when it turned up a week or so later, was the most effective painkiller I have experienced.) It was all a physical fluke. 

Surgery is wild, though. One day, I had a regular seven-mile-walk habit and was busy doing all the things, and the next ... I was not. Before surgery, the prospect of recovery sounded relaxing—resting in bed, long slow strolls, nothing to do but read—but it turns out, recovery is its own type of hard work, a shifty dance of pushing forward and easing up, of reclaiming and adapting ordinary tasks and habits. For the first couple of weeks, anything requiring sustained attention was too challenging—my body stole focus and just simply being was absorbing enough. (It was a good moment for crossword puzzles, magazine articles, and short stories.) With time, I'm getting better and better, but I still feel like I am living in two parallel tracks—one in my mind, which holds on to life before surgery as the baseline for how I should be, and the other in my body, which continues to heal in its own inscrutable, nonlinear way. I wonder when this weird awareness will start to fade, when the two lenses click together and simply become ordinary life again. 

Here's to slow but steady steps into the new year. 


Some things I have found useful since my surgery: THE GREAT wide-legged cropped sweatpant (There is no elastic waist, which means you can tie them to rest gently wherever is most comfortable, and The GREAT's website includes all the measurements for each garment, making it easy to obtain pants of sufficient looseness for post-surgical swelling.) / THE GREAT long-sleeve crop tee  / Inventive Sleep backrest wedge pillow (much more comfortable than a shifting mound of treacherous small cushions) / Serta electric sherpa fleece throw (amazing; nothing else felt as good) / Hydro Flask 40 oz All Around travel tumblerIKEA Resgods folding bed tray (invaluable) / Sockwell Circulator wool-blend medium compression socks (to switch off/cover hospital-issued TED hose) / Salomon RX slides (comfy, with a nonslip grippy sole). 

Not pictured, but essential: ARQ's generously cut high-rise undies, for avoiding tender incisions, and a Jellycat sun purloined from a kid's bedroom, useful to press against your abdomen while laughing if you, like me, foolishly elect to watch a comedy special the day after you come home. 

festive things

Gislebertus, "Dream of the Magi," circa 1120-30 , Cathedral of Saint-Lazare,  Autun, France. Via Stephen Ellcock.


Mary Delany, "Ilex Aquifolium (Tetandria tetragynia)," from an album (Vol.V, 60); Holly with berries. 1775. Collage of colored papers, with bodycolor and watercolor, on black ink background. The British Museum.



Olivier Dassault, "Untitled/Christmas card," 1987. MFA Boston.


Tacuinum Sanitatis, Milan or Pavia, ca. 1390-1400. Via The Fortnight Institute.


Schreiber pop-up toy theater book, ca.1885. The V & A.


Holiday dress of my dreams: Rothermal Theater Dress by Bode.


Star Finial, artist unidentified, United States, 1875–1925, paint and gilding on metal, 45 × 22 × 9 in. American Folk Art Museum.


... [W]e are seeing our own mortality in the close of day and year. The hours of sunlight run by more quickly, and we’re left behind in the darkness. It’s hard now to feel the privation of former winters, or experience the desolation of the landscape; it’s not even likely to snow. But we see the trees unleafing, and sense the different strains of winter light: sometimes bright and cold, often thin and misted. Much of our enjoyment of this gauntness is in relief. Fasting for advent used to make a penitence of nature’s dearth, relieved at last by ecstatic abundance. On Christmas Eve congregations would hang the branches of the churchyard trees with apples. In Moscow, they deck avenues of leafless boughs with red and gold baubles, which has the same effect.

Our contrivance of these spots of colour has its roots in nature’s contingencies: red berries on a black branch, an evergreen tree in a field of snow—Ruskin’s lesser beauties perhaps. But it takes a mind to frame them, to put the tree in a painting or a living room. Sometimes novelty itself seems poetic, as though the product of design. ... We aestheticise the tree by changing its setting, or we admire it through a picture. Christmas itself is a removal, separated from the rest of the year by its spangles and pageantry. The season makes us tourists of our own nostalgia; it’s best not to think too hard about the absurdity of chopping down a tree and covering it with tiny ornaments. What do we do with the wanwood when the new year comes? In the 16th century, after the feast and the dancing, the tree would be ceremonially burned, marking the end of festivities with a final brilliant spectacle, which does seem better than leaving it on the street for the council to collect.

Alicia Sprawls, "Christmas Trees." London Review of Books,  1/5/2017.

In 1419, the Freiburg bakers’ apprentices noted having seen a tree set up in a hospital, decorated with apples, wafers, gingerbread, and tinsel. In Riga, in 1510, a brotherhood of merchants are said to have set up a tree around Christmastime, then decorated it with thread and straw; they burned it at Lent. Many of the hints of early Christmas-tree—or solstice-tree, or New Year’s tree—traditions come from rules limiting them. A regulation in Upper Alsace specified that each citizen could take from the forest no more than one pine, of a height no more than eight shoes. A 1611 ban against felling trees in the Alsatian town of Turckheim is arguably the first appearance of the term “Christmas tree”: Weihnachtsbaum.

Rivka Galchen, "The Science of Christmas Trees." The New Yorker, 12/6/2022. 

One thing is for certain—I wouldn’t want to be a Christmas tree. It would be nice to be the center of attention, to be so decorated and lit that people stared at you in wonder, and made a fuss over you, and were mesmerized. That would be nice. But then you’d start dropping your needles and people would become bored with you and say you weren’t looking so good, and then they’d take all your jewelry off, and haul you off to the curb where you would be picked up and crushed and eventually burned. That’s the terrible part. Maybe that’s why so many people today have fake trees. They are quite popular. Their limbs come apart and you can put them in boxes and store them. You can have one of these trees until you die and you can pass them on to your children. They may not be real but when you look at them you can’t tell the difference. That always makes people happy—not being able to tell the difference. And happiness, to want to be happy, is the most natural thing of all.

Mary Ruefle,  "Recollections of My Christmas Tree.Harpers, December 20, 2013. 


See also: Robert Frost, "Christmas Trees."



Merry everything, friends.

imaginary outfit: jólabókaflóð 2023 + wish-listed books for 2024

December 24th, and time again for my favorite Icelandic tradition—the Yule Book Flood. So here I am, swaddling myself in knits and plaids and plonking down on the small grey sofa by the fireplace. (Though it is small and upright, it is peculiarly suited to extravagant lolling.) There, in the glow of the Christmas lights and the ambient red heat of the electric fire, with a sharp, salty snack and something to drink to hand, knowing that, finally, everything is wrapped and ready for tomorrow, I'll pick up something to read.

My imaginary to-read shelf is well-stocked. On it, I've finally secured a long longed-for copy of Edith Sitwell's A Book of the Winter, and I have the collector's edition of Michelle Oka Doner's Intuitive Alphabet. Then, there's Alex Arzt's fascination with feral cabbages and Suzie Alan Skunk's Maybe I Think You Stink, a "celebrated work of poetry and skunk culture written by and for the small animal community." Mathias Énard's new novel about "the one day in the year where Death and the living observe a temporary truce" beckons, too. I might while away a happy hour or so learning about the secret lives of stones or exemplary fools or odd jobs, or perusing exhibition catalogs "of the Disappeared, Destroyed, Lost or Otherwise Inaccessible" or Lois Dodd's windows and reflections. There's copy of The Girls, a "wry, macabre tale of simple country living, brutal murder, and a reasonably happy couple" by a "most startlingly offbeat suspense novelist," and Howard Fishman's life of Connie Converse, too:
"Converse was notable for preserving a greater level of obscurity more extreme than any of the others: recordings never commercially available; no connections to any scene or famous figure; being a guitar-playing singer-songwriter (and home-taper) in the early 1950s, before such a thing existed, who played only among friends before dropping out of music in the 1960s and ultimately disappearing shortly after."

(I think I found out about this book through Kelsey Keith's Substack.) 

In other Substack recommendations: Jess Stanley's praise of Naomi Klein's Doppelganger landed it on the must-read shelf:

Klein has taken everything frightening in the world—Steve Bannon! Vaccine denial! Fascists! Colonialism and racist scapegoating! Inaction on climate change!—and made the state of the problem clear. Sometimes you just want someone older, wiser and cleverer than you to put your worries in order and point you in the right direction. Klein does this! 
More directional reading: Sadiya Hartman, Christina Sharpe, Rinaldo Walcott, and Vicky Osterweil on looting, which Osterweil describes as "a nearly irrecuperable aesthetic gesture against the police, whiteness, and the regime of property that gives those forces power and purpose," and David Graeber's Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia, a book about, yes, 17th-century pirates, but also about what Francis Gooding calls "living, practical" experiments in "new ways of organizing social life," not to mention "blood pacts and poisonings, magicians and princesses, off-grid pirate towns on tropical islands, impostor kings lording it over phoney empires, and more."

Back in real life, I'll probably spend the evening in my pajamas with the Penguin Book of Christmas Stories. Italo Calvino and Angela Carter for Christmas—what could be better?

Wishing everyone, everywhere peace and somewhere safe and quiet and calm to read.




some books that might be worth giving (or getting)

Me, checking my list and panic-buying books as holiday presents? Nah, it's Parker Posey in "Party Girl."

Last-minute holiday shoppers tend to have a go-to spot. For my dad, it is an Ace Hardware, where he tends to find the most unexpected things, like "magic chickadee hand-feeding gloves" (one-size-fits-all gloves and a bag of birdseed). Me, I head to a bookstore. 

If you are dealing with specific readers, persnickety readers, the type of person with definite notions about what they will or will not want to read (someone, perhaps, ahem, like me), here are some tailored recommendations. Some are books I read this year. Those I have written about in my newsletter; I've radically condensed reviews from there here, as I've spent the better part of the last month recovering from surgery, and the prospect of a shortcut was too tempting to resist. My apologies if it feels duplicative—hopefully, there is enough of the fresh mixed in!

For small and persistent questioners:

The Little Island, Margaret Wise Brown. This is the picture book we've read more than any other in our family; why this one, I could not tell you exactly. It is a strange and gnomic book about the passage of time and a kitten reaching the limit of what he can know and the place where faith comes in. Leon Wiesgard's beautiful illustrations feel like a time capsule, too; a lost way of seeing and depicting the world.

For the precociously wordy:

Ounce, Dice, Trice by Alastair Reid. A poet's compendium of strange, beguiling, silly, and delightful words (and the first book that made Hugh laugh when he was a baby).

The Swifts, a Dictionary of Scoundrels by Beth Lincoln. A wordy, witty, mordantly clever whodunit for the 8-12 set about escaping the ways your family defines you—in this case, literally, as each Swift is given a name from the family dictionary and expected to live up to it, a prospect that fills Shenanigan Swift with some trepidation. Can she be more than a troublemaker, especially when mysterious accidents begin befalling her kin?

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente. Twelve-year-old September is whisked away from Omaha to Fairyland on the back of Imogen, Leopard of Little Breezes, by the Green Wind. If that is the sort of sentence that thrills you to your toes, you will love Valente's Fairyland books, rococo narrative confections resplendent with inventive imagination.

For the defiantly young:

Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith, illustrated by Boulet. I have read many versions of Beowulf through the years, and none is more delightful than this one, where the tale is recast into an epic confrontation between anarchic childhood and grim age. An absolute pleasure.

For the growing pained:

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. Franny and Zooey are the youngest of the seven famous Glass children, who were trotted out to perform on the "It's a Wise Child" radio program. Now Franny is in college, and Zooey is an actor on the rise. In these two short stories, Salinger outlines the spiritual crisis that crashes in on Franny—what, exactly, is she supposed to do? And in a world of cruelty, falseness, pomposity, and greed—and Zooey's attempt to help her out. It's maddening, funny, irritating writing that suddenly catches you—well, me at least—up short with heartbreaking wisdom. 

For people who get a little too lost in books:

Henry Brocken by Walter de la Mare. One day, riding on his uncle’s horse, Dulcinea, Henry Broken finds himself in a subtly sinister realm beyond the reaches of the ordinary where Jane Eyre and Rochester, Sleeping Beauty and Gulliver, not to mention the peoples of Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress and Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream live in a sort of suspended reality,  leaving the reader to question whether knowing how the story ends is really a gift after all. (More here: E*C Digest 5/1/2023.)

For middle-aged witches:

Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner. After spending the first part of her life as a resident spinster aunt, Laura Willowes decides to make a change, sparked by a bundle of greenery she picks up in a shop. To the confusion of her staid family, she ups sticks and moves to a remote English village, where she makes a deal with the devil to finally have the life she wants.

For the macabre:

The Skull by John Klassen. In this droll and deadpan tale, Ottilla is on the run; from what, who can say? She finds a house inhabited by a skull; it is chased nightly by a headless skeleton. With a bucket, a rolling pin, some tea, and some nerve, she finds her way to a happy—or happy enough—ever after. (E*C Digest, 7.21.2023)

I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore. A teacher visiting his dying brother in a New York City hospice goes home to discover his ex, a therapy clown, has committed suicide and been buried; not what she would have wanted. Naturally, he goes to her grave, where there she is, slightly decayed and waiting for him to take her to a forensic cadaver farm. The story of their road trip is interspersed with dispatches from a woman running a boarding house just after the Civil War. Moore, acidly witty, is always ready with one-liners that slap. 

Poor Things by Alasdair Gray. Structure is everything in this amazingly gonzo and wickedly entertaining collection of found "historical" documents, including the Frankenstein tale of Bella Baxter, a dead woman brought back to life implanted with the brain from her fetus. Who gets to tell a woman's story? And why is it so much easier to believe a man's lies over a woman's truth?

For the festive:

Here is a list of all of the books in my holiday reading pile!

For the wryly empathetic:

The Unfortunate Life of Earthworms by Noemi Vola. Vola opens this book by recommending against writing a book about earthworms because no one cares about earthworms. But you will, after you read this.

For armchair time-travelers:

Otherlands by Thomas Halliday. An absolutely exhilarating, mind-melting trip back through the history of the Earth that meticulously reconstructs specific ecosystems from different epochs, revealing that everything in our ordinary world is actually a marvelous compendium of time. Watch for the giant penguins!

Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton. Perhaps the most beautiful and breathtaking picture book about how we got here, charmingly framed as an epic play tracing existence from the birth of the sun to the moment you sit, holding this book in your hands. Sarah Larson wrote a lovely review of it in The New Yorker in 2015; a beloved favorite.

For readers of The Wager craving additional harrowing shipwreck narratives:

You think crashing on a remote South American island in the 1700s is bad? Ha! Have I got two books for you: Joan Druett's The Island of the Lost (which I am sure I have recommended before but will continue to recommend all of my days) is an eye-popping tale of two shipwrecks on the same Auckland Island. Survivors from each were on the island at the same time, and while one group managed a Crusoe-esque living situation of enviable discipline, startling ingenuity, and ultimately, escape, the others ... did not. If you yearn for even more severe cold and misery, Hampton Sides' In The Kingdom of Ice tells the spine-chilling story of the Arctic-bound Jeannette expedition. The ship was crushed after two years in the pack ice, and the survivors made a bananas thousand-mile journey over the ice to Siberia.

For letter readers:

Letters to Gwen John by Celia Paul. Reading Paul's series of personal letters to her favorite artist, Gwen John, is lulling, almost like ASMR, but there is something formidable beneath the gentleness—the testimony and truth of two women who built their lives around making art and what it cost them to do it.

Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal. De Waal wrote an absolutely extraordinary memoir of his family through the history of a collection of netsuke in The Hare With Amber Eyes. Here, in a series of poignant and shattering letters addressed to Moise Camondo, a banker and collector whose only son died for France in WWI and whose family was murdered by Nazis in WWII, de Waal grapples with the limits of the storytelling and the ways that stories and memoirs fail.

For mycophile wellness hustlers:

The Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham. Diana Brackley is a brainy, beautiful, pragmatic biochemist who discovers the remarkable property of a rare lichen, and then uses a wellness empire (ha) to set in motion a long-range plan to empower women to reshape their lives—and the world. (More here: E*C Digest, 1.15.2023)

For people contemplating a run for city council:

South Riding by Winifred Holtby. Based on Holtby's mother's experiences in local British government circa 1920-1930, this quietly engrossing book depicts the turbulent flow of ordinary lives with a capacious, unsentimental generosity. It's similar to the magic of Middlemarch but less about the unseen good of individual acts than the imperfect but essential good of community. (More here: 5/2/2022 blog post

For amateur mathematicians:

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. A beautiful and idiosyncratic story about numbers creating a pathway to something incalculable between a housekeeper, her ten-year-old son, and a professor whose short-term memory lasts only 8o minutes. (More here: E*C Digest, 2.16.2023)

For people interested in AI's roots:

The MANIAC by Benjamín Labatut. In three mesmeric stories, Labatut outlines the costs technology can extract. In the first, Paul Ehrehfest, a physicist driven to despair by developments in the field and the rise of Nazism, takes his own life and the life of a beloved son who was disabled, believing there was no more room in the world for them; in the second, a chorus of voices tells the story of John Von Neumann, the Hungarian-American genius who, perhaps more than anyone else, created the world of computers that we live with now, a world that grew directly out of the development of atomic bombs; the third recounts the defeat of the Go master Lee Sedol by AlphaGo, an AI program. I found it harrowing and absolutely fascinating. Pair it with Turing's Cathedral by George Dyson, the book Labatut cites as an inspiration, which delves more deeply into von Neumann's startling story and the startling stories of the many, many genius minds around him as they played around and developed new tools and methodologies of doom.

For everyone reading the news:

Minor Detail by Adiana Shibli. Two stories of Palestinian women: One in 1949, one sometime in the 21st century, that illuminate with shattering clarity that violence never ends—its aftershocks always reverberate through time, leading to damage and tragedy. (Originally blogged about here on 5.2.2022

For marveling in humble wonder at the indomitable human spirit and what can be done with words:

The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz Bart. One of the most wondrous books I have read in a long, long time. It tells the story of Telumee Lougandor and the women in her family and their lives in Guadeloupe in the aftermath of slavery. It lifted me right out of my own life and way of thinking, like someone opeing a hidden door and saying, see? Here is a whole other world, and whole new ways of using words. The way that Schwarz-Bart shows the depths of the resilience, community, and joy in the Lougandor women’s lives is awesome, in the sense of an encounter with something sublime. (More here: E*C Digest, 1.25.2023)

Lois Lenski with the last word:

various suns / midwinter day

Donald Baxter MacMillan, "The last row of suns," 1913-1917. Taken on the Crocker Expedition.


Erich Fried, "Toys," translated by George Rapp. Via Drifting Lament.



Rylands Medieval Collection, Latin MS 53, f. 58v. Christianus Prolianus and Joachinus de Gigantibus (?), Astronomia, 1478: "Comparative view of the magnitudes of the Sun (a large disc of burnished gold), the Moon (silver), Mars (gold), Venus (gold), Mercury (gold) and Earth (pale)." Found at Demonagerie, via A London Salmagundi.


Jan Luyken, "Vrouw houdt bij het kijken naar de zon haar hand voor de ogen (The woman holds her hands ovr her eyes while looking at the sun)," 1687. The Rijksmuseum.


Bernadette Mayer, from Midwinter's Day, 1978.