finished S2 of Peaky Blinders & we love it; can’t wait for S3. & I know the name’s historically accurate, but it’s… not great. it always sounded like “Fawlty Towers” to me (and it is not that). it’s like if Breaking Bad were called “Let’s Cook! With Walt & Jesse”

Saturday’s beer: Goose Island Beer Co.’s Bourbon County Kentucky Fog Stout
celebrating the one-year anniversary of this fog we’ve been living in with this unique Earl Grey-infused “London Fog” brew (definitely picking up the bergamot in there)
☕️ 🍺

the first week of ToB ended yesterday with another excellent match: Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown v. Raven Leilani’s Luster 📚 I happened to have read both of these; if I had to pick one to advance, I would have picked the same, but they were both fantastic

another day, another great ToB round: Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom
v. Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks
📚 Sometimes these judgements are excellent, poignant writing on their own, and today’s is a case in point. Plus Barry’s novel sounds great, it’s on the TBR for sure

today’s ToB: Lydia Millet’s A Children’s Bible v. Bryan Washington’s Memorial. 📚 Extra eciting because I’d actually read one of these (A Children’s Bible), which I really enjoyed. its competitor sounds like a well-written and touching book of the type that I’m just not that interested in.

The judgement featured another of my favorite parts of this event: a recognition of similarities between books that on the surface don’t seem remotely similar:

That is why I was so surprised to find, from the first page, how many thematic and stylistic similarities Memorial shares with A Children’s Bible. It, too, is a story of estranged parents and children, told in short, breathing beats…

It’s the natural human impulse to look for patterns, spurred by these oddly (randomly?) paired novels, from which each judge has to pick a “winner”. It’s so crazy, it just [does] work.

first match of the opening round of the Tournament of Books (ToB): James McBride’s Deacon King Kong vs. Agustina Bazterrica’s Tender Is the Flesh. 📚 As is the case with most of the books in the tournament, I haven’t read either of these. Yet that reduces my enjoyment of each day’s rounds not a bit. One main thing I get from the ToB is high-quality additions to my to-be-read (TBR) list. Today, Deacon King Kong (spoiler alert: today’s “winner”) moved a step closer to my list, while Tender is the Flesh earned a permanent ban, a book that is clearly Not For Me, Thank You.

And then the other thing I get from the ToB shone through: the book-clubby beauty of the whole goofy event. I’d read the judge’s well-considered and well-written judgement, which went a long way toward convincing me that a dystopian story of a society that purposefully adopts cannibalism didn’t sound great. And then the very first comment (one of the still-astounding things about the ToB is that the comments are actually good(!)) laid out a case that made me see: well, okay, there’s some merit and some interesting themes to this book. It’s still firmly Not For Me, Thank You, but I got exposure to and a much better appreciation of this book because of this wonderful event.

And I’m glad to see Deacon King Kong advance. It sounds much better to me now than the blurb (or the hideous cover art) led me to think at first, but I’m not sure. Now there will be at least one more head-to-head ToB judgement, and more discussion, to help me to decide.

the Tournament of Books started today! a play-in round, a rare 3-way contest advancing one book to the main bracket: Ilze Hugo’s Down Days, Hari Lunzru’s Red Pill, & Gish Jen’s The Resisters. they all seem interesting, though not sure I’ll add any of these to my TBR 📚

Saturday’s beer: Buffalo Bayou Brewing’s Figaro, Figaro Figaro Fiiigaaaro
I don’t think I’d have picked out the fig flavor if I wasn’t looking for it, but gotta love a Belgian quadrapel, anyway 🍺

Saturday’s beer: Celis Brewery’s Coffee Porter

Fifty Fifty Brewing’s Donner Party Porter
Cheers to this winter weather, and here’s hoping our power & internet come back before we have to start eating each other

Texas Beer Company’s King Grackle Strawberry Chocolate Stout
No actual chocolate-covered strawberries this year; this will have to do

oof, another Liverpool collapse. they’re largely the same players as the last couple of seasons, but for some reason they just aren’t the same team anymore 💔⚽️

beautiful frozen rain like this contributed to our power being out for six and a half hours yesterday. an unnerving lesson in what we take for granted every day (heat, lights, Netflix)

happy Black History Month! I’m going to only read books by Black authors this month. started the graphic novel The Black Panther Party yesterday (+1 for library ebooks!); others on top of my TBR pile: Leave the World Behind, The Vanishing Half, The Sum of Us 📚

finished a couple of good books recently, both contenders in this year’s Tournament of Books: Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu, and A Children’s Bible, by Lydia Millet. they’re both weird, even somewhat surreal, but touching & thought-provoking. recommend x2 📚

I don’t know if the ideas in this post can or will be put into action by journalists, but boy they sound good

Effective today, you are no longer political reporters (and editors); you are government reporters (and editors).

Saturday’s beer: Oskar Blues Brewery’s Barrel-Aged Ten Fidy
Not a can design worth writing home about, but very smooth, and rich enough to make the wait till Saturday worth it 🍺

…also always a sucker for prog-rock bombast:

In these scorched and pitted times, as the world smoulders, there might be nothing less trendy than an hour-long psychrock epic by a band of Canadian grandmasters. Then again, there might be nothing we need more.

listening to the brand-new album The Besnard Lakes Are The Last Of The Great Thunderstorm Warnings 🎵 their style isn’t usually my thing, but somehow they’re one of my favorites

album cover

good morning

Saturday’s beer: Modern Times’ Black House, Vanilla Latte edition
Dark & smooth, like I like my… beer 🍺

finished The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker 📚 if I’d known this book was about the themes and situations it is, I don’t think I ever would have read it. but I’m glad I did; it was really good! perfect characterizations, good story & pace, just excellent

got a little choked up more than once today, but the good faith, professionalism, & sincerity on display in Jen Psaki’s day-one press briefing might be the highlight of the whole day. long may it reign

something special to commemorate a beautiful inauguration day: Destihl Brewery’s Dosvidanya
goodbye and good riddance, you monster. may we never hear of you again outside of arrest reports and sentencing news

please note that, per ISO, the idiom “can of worms” has been deprecated in favor of the more tactile, visceral, and just plain gross “bag of worms”. usage remains the same.

thank you in advance for your cooperation
- the management

watched The Night is Short, Walk on Girl last night 🎥 (HBOMax recently added some good anime features). it was great: funny, sweet, and very weird

Saturday’s beer: Lagunitas Brewing’s Willetized Coffee Stout (2020)
I thought this would be good when I picked it up, and it’s even better than expected. just excellent. 🍺

finished Uncanny Valley by Anna Weiner 📚 I don’t read much memoir, but really enjoyed this! as a member of the tech industry, it was fun & interesting to read this wryly observed outsider’s view. I nodded a lot while reading this; recommended.

we don’t see this every day in central Texas

Saturday beer: The Bruery’s Partridge in a Pear Tree
tasty, solid quad. here’s to the new year 🍺

new post: Reading Goals, in which I declare victory on the common “I should read more” resolution

Reading Goals

Like many, I’ve long wanted to read more. Even my love of browsing bookstores was getting cramped by the guilty knowledge that I had more books waiting patiently on shelves at home than I would ever get to. But now, at the end of this year, I feel I can claim victory. I did it: I read more.

One boost was the daily reading habit I started last year, which has been great. I set a fifteen minute timer, and don’t allow myself to read that particular book outside the daily dose. This keeps me from cheating and going longer, which I think helps me keep the habit: I know it’s only ever “just” 15 minutes, and done. By a quick review of my Goodreads list, I got through some seventeen books this way in 2020. (Granted, some of those were the shortest and fastest reads – comics and graphic novels. No apologies.)

Being locked down due to the pandemic probably didn’t hurt the amount I was able to sit and read, although switching to full-time remote work did cut down on commute audiobook time.

Book clubs definitely helped. The computer book club I ran (until I stepped down in October) prompted me to get through five books, and the Tournament of Books’ virtual Camp ToB was a fun way to go through six really enjoyable reads that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own. I struggle with book clubs sometimes, resenting the obligation of having to read something, but it’s fun in small doses (and the ToB online community is a surprisingly good one).

I had also set an ambitious Goodreads reading goal for this year: 50 books. And I made it! As mentioned, some of those were quickies, but some were not, e.g., Emma (476 pages), Madame Bovary (411), The Paying Guests (564), and that’s not even getting into those computer books, like Coders at Work (632).

But I’ve decided that the numbers of books, and their page-counts don’t matter. Is this because I participated in a writers’ novel swap group, and so read several full-length novels without even getting credit for them in my Goodreads count? Yes.

Errr, no. No, that’s not it, really. As I said to start, I’ve wanted to read more, and to my own surprise, I’m actually doing it. I enjoy it, and I’m actually prioritizing doing it, and it’s happening. Having a quantifiable goal in Goodreads, and a tracking app that makes a satisfying ding! when I read each day, and following along with a book club, those are all things that helped me build the habit of reading back into my life. I’ll continue with those practices as far as they’re still fun, but the reading is the thing.

P.S. Gretchen Rubin has announced regular, daily reading as her “Happier” podcast’s 2021 goal. Last year they encouraged listeners to walk 20 minutes in ’20; this year their suggestion is to read for 21 minutes in ’21. See her blog post for details, hints, and tips. Maybe I’ll up my daily timer…

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