The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee is really good; I recommend it. 📚 Al Franken also has a good interview with the author on his podcast, which introduces the main ideas of the book. find it wherever you get your podcasts (or on YouTube)
Saturday’s beer: Buffalo Bayou Brewing’s Comrade Cowbell
pretty tasty but sharper & hoppier than I prefer 🍺
a truly excellent judgement in today’s ToB matchup of James McBride’s Deacon King Kong v. Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, one where the judge’s opinion is nearly as thoughtful, poignant, and beautiful as the books being discussed:
Reading this book was like getting to see the world in X-ray, where the underlying structure of so many things I’ve spent my life thinking about—human, historical, national—were suddenly at long last made visible.
ahhh, this week’s ToB matches have been back to their usual good level. yesterday saw Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown (which I really liked) knock out Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks (which I plan to read soon). today’s matchup was a thoughtful judgement of Percival Everett’s Telephone v. Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs. I haven’t read either – and don’t plan to – yet I still enjoyed the discussion.
Annalee Newitz on Substack’s scam: “They paid a secret group of writers to make newsletter authorship seem lucrative”. the deception is bad enough on its face, but, as she describes towards the end, “then things got really creepy”
Saturday’s beer: Saint Arnold Brewing’s Spring Bock
this is my absolute favorite local seasonal each year; bought every drop they had (a case, lol) at HEB the other day 🍺
Catching up on a couple of ToB match days, starting with Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind v. Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors on Thursday. I read & liked Sharks a lot when I read it for Camp ToB last summer (which it won, thus earning its spot here in the main tournament).
And I don’t say this often, but I started and immediately stopped reading Leave the World Behind. The tone and style were just very very not my thing. Book people talk sometimes about disliking a title so much they want to throw it across the room, and, well, now I know what they mean. But that’s the one that won this round, and so there’s a chance someone will tear it apart in its next matchup.
Though maybe, I learned after reading the snarky, condescending judgement in Friday’s quarterfinal matchup of James McBride’s Deacon King Kong v. Bryan Washington’s Memorial, I wouldn’t enjoy that so much, after all. This judge apparently didn’t care much for either book, which made for a pretty dreary round. The Commentariat had a lot strong opinions, on both sides, of his final criteria:
I think it’s unlikely that these two books will be much read, loved, or discussed in a hundred years… 1920 produced one indispensable masterpiece, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, and hopefully whichever title takes this year’s Rooster incarnates even a fraction of that book’s invigorating brilliance and enduring virtuosity.
I suppose, as a tie-breaker, such a consideration might be valid, though I tend to agree with those who argued that one’s own reading experience – right now, in the present – is worth more than what imagined future generations will enjoy or be moved by or be inspired by. Not to mention the dubious logic of cherrypicking one masterpiece from a hundred years ago to compare, really, any modern book to. Anyway, it didn’t actually break his tie, as he deems both well below that measure. So I guess he just thought that was clever, or was showing off (as one Commentariat member succinctly put it, “Wow. MFA much?”), or just did it for the lulz.
The good part is that I’m convinced about Deacon King Kong; it’s added to my TBR list. To be clear, that’s thanks to all the folks who really loved it, not this judge finally, grudgingly picked it as the winner. Not the best matchday ever, but I’ll be here for the next one on Monday.
just finished Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, which cast recent violent tragedies in the news in a new light for me
Reading Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me – especially the essay “The Longest War” – has given me a different understanding of recent violent attacks like the murder of Sarah Everard and the Atlanta spa shootings. Thinking of these as lone attackers or isolated incidents is all wrong.
…violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.
Murder is the extreme version of that authoritarianism, where the murderer asserts he has the right to decide whether you live or die, the ultimate means of controlling someone. This may be true even if you are “obedient,” because the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behavior, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.
As for that incident in my city, similar things happen all the time. Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed. The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.
most of the (ToB) judgements so far have been good: clear, well-written justifications for the decision. today’s matchup – Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half v. Hari Kunzru’s Red Pill –broke that streak. a lame, overcooked judgement; file under Trying Too Hard. disappointing 📚
another good judgement from today’s ToB:
Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi v. Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs 📚 These both sounded pretty good from the original judgement & commentary, but after reading the comments I think Piranesi is the only one going on the TBR list
happy Monday, because the ToB is back today: Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain v. Percival Everett’s Telephone 📚 I’m just happy I didn’t read either of these miserable-sounding books. Telephone was published in 3 different versions! Monstrous! I’d have been so mad if I’d read one.
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)
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.