Magazine mashups from Entertainment Weekly, November 2019. More here.
Everything my son consumes. Obvs.
Love on the Spectrum. Just finished the second season of this heart-warming and instructive Australian reality dating show on Netflix featuring people on the autism spectrum. The delightful dynamic between Michael and his mom should be its own show.
Abbey Road. I previously wrote about encountering the super deluxe remastered edition of Sgt. Pepper’s and, by Jove, it happened again with my favorite Beatles record on a recent drive home. Luscious.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Finally read Miller’s debut novel after loving Circe, and she is now two for two in my book.
The Great British Baking Show. The current season is only the second we’ve seen, the first being last year’s COVID-bubble season. Mr. Almost-3 has started saying “Mmmmm, yummmm” every time the food drawings appear, which is (almost) always correct.
The Green Knight. Thought this was just OK for a large chunk of it, until the ending, which made me want to rewatch it immediately.
Witness for the Prosecution. Similar to The Green Knight, this was fine for a while until the end, when it became great. The acting was a bit over-the-top, even for the 1950s, but Charles Laughton was the tops throughout.
Shiva Baby. Nothing quite like seeing a writer-director absolutely nail the cringey-funny tone required to make this work.
Dune. Started watching as a Dune newbie and finished as a believer. Don’t think I’ll read the books though.
Here’s a new fun thing from me: One Typed Quote, an online catalog of short, share-worthy quotes typewritten onto paper and lovingly flung onto the internet.
For years I’ve been collecting quotes I like from books, movies, songs, podcasts, and other random sources. I never knew what I’d do with them; it just felt good to save them for reference, librarian that I am.
One Typed Quote lets me share these quotes quickly and easily, in a visually interesting way, using tools I deeply admire. The blend of analog and digital also befits my personality and general ethos of life.
How to participate
Follow and contribute on Instagram:
Don’t have a typewriter? Email your favorite quotes to email@example.com and I’ll turn them into OTQ treasures.
Have your typewriter (platen) ready to roll? Here’s how to join the merry coterie of quoters:
- Pick a quote. From a book, movie, song, podcast—doesn’t matter so long as it’s brief and beautiful.
- Type it. On paper, with a typewriter. Include the author and source material.
- Share it. Take a pic (square is ideal) while it’s still in the typewriter, then post it on Instagram with the hashtag #onetypedquote and the typewriter’s make/model/year (if known) in the caption.
- Or email it. Send the pic and caption to firstname.lastname@example.org to be shared on the @onetypedquote account.
That’s it. My hope is this will inspire a steady stream of captivating quotes from a variety of sources, but I have no expectations other than having fun sharing typewritten bits of wisdom I’ve encountered and appreciated myself.
A spinoff of an ongoing series
Library books galore. Between my work library and the two public libraries close to home, we’ve established a pretty regular rotation of titles old and new. Recent hits include The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak and Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine.
Bluey. The first-ever clip I saw of Bluey was the claw game and it made me literally LOL. The best kids TV show, period.
“Dem Bones”. He really got into spooky season this year. He’s especially obsessed with all things bones and skeletons, so this old traditional was and remains a hit.
Pixar movies. Approaching 3 years old, he’s enjoyed and (mostly) stuck with the Disney/Pixar movies we’ve tried with him so far. My guess at his ranking (starting with the most loved): WALL-E, Moana, Luca, Monsters Inc., Ratatouille, Coco. Still not sure how far back in the Disney canon I want to bring him even as he gets older. There’s a lot of good stuff—though I would say that as a Millennial, wouldn’t I?—but in general Pixar is higher quality and a lot less dicey.
The Okee Dokee Brothers. Specifically “Haul Away Joe” and “Jamboree” and a few other songs on seemingly infinite rotation. Good thing I love them too.
One of the chief pleasures of my presidential biography mission is the accumulation of historical trivia.
These factoids aren’t good for much except trivia nights and some Jeopardy! categories, but they fascinate me nevertheless—and illustrate that history is a lot richer than just a boring list of dates in a textbook.
A few tidbits I’ve gathered:
- James Buchanan is the only bachelor president
- Woodrow Wilson was the first president since John Adams to deliver his State of the Union address before Congress in person
- Herbert Hoover was the first president to have a phone on his desk
- Theodore Roosevelt chased down boat thieves for 36 hours straight in the Dakota Territory while also reading Anna Karenina
- Andrew Jackson killed a man in a duel
- The only two 20th century presidents not to golf while in office: Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter (heroes)
- Per Thomas Jefferson’s utopian vision of self-government, the University of Virginia (which Jefferson founded) had no president until 1904
- To avoid attending the Republican National Convention in summer 1928, Calvin Coolidge stayed in northern Wisconsin and fished on the Brule River; Herbert Hoover visited and they fished together
- James Polk’s first client as a lawyer in 1820 was his father for public fighting; he secured his release for a $1 fine
- George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention but, perhaps unsurprisingly, spoke only once
- James Madison technically had two birthdates due to the change from Julian to Gregorian calendar systems
- As an 8 year old, John Quincy Adams personally witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill
- John Tyler was in 1844 the first president to decline to seek a second term
- William McKinley and Rutherford B. Hayes served in the same Ohio regiment during the Civil War
- Hayes’ wife Lucy hosted the first White House Easter Egg Roll in 1878 after Congress banned it at Capitol
- Harry Truman was the first vice president to have Secret Service protection, and the first president to invite his successor (Eisenhower) to the White House post-election
I was playing soccer on the front lawn this evening with Mr. Two Years Old when the moon, waxing crescent, caught his curious eye in the encroaching darkness.
I asked him if he knew why the moon glowed. We’ve read books about it before, but he said he didn’t. I explained in the simplest language how it was sunlight he was seeing, and that it only hit part of the moon because it was round, like a ball.
After my brief lecture, he grabbed the ball and brought it next to one of the solar-powered lawn lights that illuminates our front walkway. “I want to make the soccer ball glow,” he said.
It was an excellent opportunity for an object lesson. We looked at how the ball was lit up only on one side, where the light was coming from.
I managed to photograph the view before he kicked the ball away for more scrimmaging:
I never know how much of what I explain actually makes sense to him or sticks in his mind. But I should know by now never to underestimate his intelligence and curiosity, because two year olds are made to be learners.
Ever since reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent Abraham Lincoln biography Team of Rivals years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the lives and times of U.S. presidents. So much so that I made a goal to read a substantive biography of every U.S. president.
This goal isn’t motivated by politics. If anything the legislative minutiae, policy discussions, and battlefield play-by-plays are usually the dullest parts of these books. I’m simply fascinated by the peculiar power of the presidency and the stories of the men who have wielded it—even if (and when) they don’t live up to our twenty-first century expectations.
Any biography I read will teach me something, regardless of the likeability of the subject or overall quality of the book. But the best of them combine compelling prose, insightful commentary, and strong storytelling that fairly recount the person’s life while contextualizing and sometimes criticizing their decisions or behavior.
With 19 down out of 45 currently, I’m nearing halfway through this literary mission, so I thought it would be a good time to check in with what I’ve read so far.
I’ve mostly stayed away from more recent presidents, preferring books that have at least a little historical distance from their subjects. (Outside of George Bush Sr., the most recent president I’ve tackled is Harry Truman.) I also endeavor to only read meaty, single-volume biographies that make this expedition feel substantive and worthwhile (if slightly masochistic).
All that said, here are a few titles that have stood out thus far, in no particular order.
For a long time the only things I knew about Hayes were that his heavily disputed 1876 election ended the Reconstruction era in the former Confederacy, and that he was one of those forgotten presidents between Lincoln and Roosevelt with cool facial hair. But I soon learned that Hayes was a lawyer who became an abolitionist and defended escaped slaves, a brigadier general in the Civil War who was shot in the arm in the Battle of South Mountain yet still led his men to victory, and a post-presidency education reform advocate who helped found Ohio State University. Not bad for a forgotten one-term president.
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
This is the first (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) book in a trilogy about Teddy Roosevelt, who might be the most impressive president we’ve ever had. It chronicles the crowded years of his pre-presidency life, which began as a sickly yet bright child who by 25 became a best-selling author and bull-headed New York legislator, then continued as a young widower who served as a Dakota sheriff, New York City police commissioner, Navy secretary, Army colonel, and New York governor, all before becoming president at 42. Energetic, fun-loving, and extremely intelligent, Roosevelt is a biographer’s dream and one of my history crushes.
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life by Paul Nagel
From birth, John Quincy Adams lived within a shadow. His father, John, the legendary Founding Father and fiery orator, pushed John Quincy hard in his studies and inspired him to greatness. But the greatness JQA achieved—e.g. speaking multiple languages, serving as George Washington’s minister to the Netherlands at age 26—always seemed to forestall his desire to live a quiet, scholarly life away from politics and his father’s prodding. Historian Paul Nagel captures all of this in addition to Adams’ unimpressive term as president and surprising final act as an ardent abolitionist congressman. (Another bit of trivia: He was probably the only person to have known both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln personally.)
The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
The standard photo-op of a new president standing cordially with all of his living predecessors is common, but that wasn’t always so. Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman created the so-called “former presidents club” in the 1950s, and since then the relationships formed behind the scenes between members have often been surprising (like with rivals-turned-best-friends George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton) and sometimes subversive (like when Richard Nixon deliberately sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s peace talks in Vietnam to aid his own 1968 campaign). The book is a fascinating account of how the private and public lives in “the world’s most exclusive fraternity” have interweaved throughout modern political history.
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (the for-me OG!)
- John Adams by David McCullough (sets the standard for POTUS biography greatness)
- Andrew Jackson: His Life & Times by H.W. Brands (how do you solve a problem like Andrew Jackson?)
- John Tyler by Gary May (a 19th-century surprise)
I’m creating my annual movie lists retroactively. See all of them.
We’re now deep into an era that was, at least for me, dominated by DVDs. I seemed to get a new one or two every birthday and Christmas, and rented aplenty from Family Video or Blockbuster. My movie collection has changed a lot since then, but I’ve never stopped collecting physical media.
On top of more frequent moviegoing as a freshman going on sophomore, I also started paying more attention to the Oscars. Part of this was printing out a ballot to track the guesses of my friends and classmates. My claim to infamy: being the only person to predict an upset Best Picture win for Lost in Translation—this in the year of the 11-win sweep by Return of the King. I was glad to be wrong.
On to the list.
1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
My friend and fellow LOTR nerd Tim and I were in the same high school chemistry class, and we spent the entire fall semester counting down the days until this movie premiered. All the haters who complain about the multiple endings are fools of a Took. See also: my Top 5 Lord of the Rings moments and other appreciations.
2. Finding Nemo
Not unlike the LOTR trilogy, this film—#6 in my Pixar rankings—is a journey. I haven’t watched it since becoming a father, so I wonder if and how my feelings about it will change with a rewatch.
3. School of Rock
Wrote about this a while back.
4. Matchstick Men
I don’t think I’d seen many con movies at the time, so this one made a strong impression. Nic Cage is the perfect balance of quirk and cool, and Sam Rockwell shines as usual in a wiry supporting role.
5. Kill Bill Vol. 1
Hard to decide whether I like Vol. 1 or Vol. 2 more, though the fact that Vol. 2 didn’t crack my 2004 list perhaps makes the case for me.
6. Ghosts of the Abyss
Sought out this documentary during my recent Titanic kick. It follows James Cameron and the crew of his deep-sea diving expedition in 2001 to explore the remains of the Titanic shipwreck. Haunting, beautiful stuff, in a way that’s different from Cameron’s other Titanic movie.
7. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
A rollicking and only occasionally ridiculous adventure, and the rare adaptation success that Hollywood has been chasing and failing to reproduce ever since.
8. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
This seems to have acquired a reputation as an under-appreciated masterpiece. It’s quite good, and I’d definitely watch a sequel, but I’ll leave it at that.
9. A Mighty Wind
Third-rate Christopher Guest joint (literally—after Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show) with a five-star soundtrack.
10. Runaway Jury
The idea of a gun manufacturer being held criminally liable for a mass shooting seems quaint these days. Not quaint: Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman going mano a mano. I miss Gene Hackman in movies.
- Big Fish
- Bruce Almighty
- Capturing the Friedmans
- The Italian Job
- The Fog of War
- The Matrix Reloaded
- Phone Booth
- The Recruit
- X2: X-Men United
It’s been a minute since the last time I took stock of my notetaking/productivity apps, so here’s where I stand currently:
- I still use paper. The reporter’s notebook I got last Christmas is good for my occasional work-based bullet journaling.
- Feedly has been my RSS reader of choice for years now. To further declutter my email inbox, I also use Feedly to follow many email newsletters (shout-out to Substack and Buttondown for their RSS-friendly design; boooooo Mailchimp).
- I went deeper into WorkFlowy, which has remained delightfully clean and minimalist even while adding a bunch of new features. I transferred my Book Notes & Quotes there, along with old conference session notes and other reference things that fit as bulleted lists.
- Once I realized my files were awkwardly split between Google Drive and Dropbox, I decided to commit more fully to the former and put the latter on ice. Once essential, Dropbox now seems superfluous.
- I stopped using Simplenote because other tools filled its role, and Apple Reminders because its syncing sucks.
- I started paying for 50GB of iCloud last year before I upgraded to a new iPhone, mostly for photo backup.
- I use the Office 365 suite for work. It’s fine.
- My calendar situation remains annoyingly bifurcated between Google for personal and Outlook for work. The only place all my events appear together seamlessly is in the iOS Calendar app, which isn’t ideal.
See my other “of the moment” series.
While going through my library’s bevy of old staff and event photos, I encountered lots of what used to be commonplace but are now practically ancient artifacts: photo envelopes. Most of them were from the 1990s and early 2000s, which you can probably guess from the designs.
(See also: groovy ’70s library brochures.)