Week 6, capacious but curated

Landscape near Rome during a storm

Landscape near Rome during a storm, Simon Denis, ca. 1786–1806

Yesterday, Kathryn and I drove to the olive mill in San Ardo, down near Paso Robles, three hours from us here in Oakland. We had a few things to pick up on the way, one of which was on top of a mountain near Los Gatos, so we just went down the other side, past Santa Cruz, then through the Salinas Valley. As much as I am devoted to biking and walking, I have to admit there’s something special about seeing California by car, especially on a day like yesterday, with enormous rain clouds trundling in from the west. We saw them more than we felt them, big bulbous travelers on the horizon. We’d drive a stretch of the valley just after the clouds had passed, leaving behind slick pavement, the full arc of a rainbow. On the way home, Kathryn said it felt like we had been dancing with the rain all day.

Anyone who ordered “The Sleep Consultant” should have received it in the mail by now; copies have made it to the UK and Japan and other far-flung places, like Michigan. I’ve received a handful of messages from folks who have not received theirs, and for them, fresh copies are being dispatched. Let me know if you need one, too!

This week,

  • I'm working on the design for the next shipment of Fat Gold, the California extra virgin olive oil that Kathryn and I produce. Each shipment comes with a zine, so, no: I cannot, in fact, resist turning everything into a publishing project.
  • I've set a day aside to work with the composer Jesse Solomon Clark on a robotics project.
  • I have long-awaited meetups scheduled with a few different writer friends---over kebabs, over cider. This will be a good week for catching up and conversation.
  • I continue my re-read of the Wheel of Time series. I will uh not be reading all fourteen books. But, I picked up the first one on a whim at Borderlands in SF and enjoyed it sufficiently to keep reading for a while. (One thing I'm realizing: these books are YA! I mean, they really truly are. And I think that explains why many of the "here's what to read after The Wheel of Time" suggestions never clicked with me; they had all of the high fantasy but none of the Bildungsroman.)

May I just add: I love how mass-market paperbacks look basically trashed after even a single reading. It is their natural state!!

The Eye of the World

Last year, I published Kiyash Monsef’s story The Unbeatable Deck of Ronan Shin on newsprint, and now, finally, it’s available to read online. The story integrates a fictional card game, a bit like Magic: The Gathering, and I happen to think Kiyash’s imagined card text is just pitch-perfect—totally evocative and delightful. The story is buoyed by illustrations from Helen Shewolfe Tseng; it’s just a really really nice package all around. Enjoy!

I had a dream, a while ago, of being hacked. Nothing was actually happening; there were no sinister messages on my computer screen; I just felt an ambient sense of dread—or, no, it was more like decay; something giving way. I knew I had to contact Verizon as soon as I could, because something out there—my email account? my bank account?—was crumbling, succumbing.

When I woke up, I was impressed with my sleeping brain for its kinda surprisingly subtle, interesting dramatization of the experience. I made a note of it, and who knows? It might end up tucked into some paragraph of some story.

Isn’t this library lovely?

Mountain House in Mist

It’s located in Liangjiashan Village in China’s Zhejiang Province, on the country’s coast, about halfway down.

I mean, come on!!

Mountain House in Mist, reading room

There are a few projects near me in Oakland that use milky polycarbonate panels for full-length walls in the same way as this library. I fear they might not be totally practical—I’ve heard these structures can get really hot inside during the day—but I love the way they look. At night, they glow with a deep inner light, and you can see fuzzy shadows moving inside.

Mountain House in Mist, glowing

It’s probably been too long since I recommended So Many Books, one of my favorites of all time, an exploration by Gabriel Zaid of how to think and feel about… all the books. The books you’ve purchased but never read; the books you’ll never know about but/and would love to read; the books in a glowing library in Zhejiang Province; the books in a non-glowing bookstore down the street.

And, secretly, without ever saying the word, it’s one of the best books about the internet ever written.

It’s also a tiny book—you really can fit it in a back pocket—and you know I love tiny books.

Look at that cute lil thing

As a very significant bonus, So Many Books is published by Paul Dry Books, a perfect little publisher based in Philadelphia. It appears to have maybe three employees, and offers a capacious but curated list of books that each seem to have a potential audience of maybe… two thousand people?—and they’re terrific! I have been one of those two thousand for many, many Paul Dry books. Operating at that scale doesn’t prevent them from enjoying, every now and again, a big hit, which So Many Books was.

I give Zaid’s little book my highest recommendation; the number of times I’ve returned to individual chapters, or even gone seeking a particular paragraph, is testament to its depth. If you decide to pick it up, I’m going to have to insist that you do so directly from Paul Dry Books. The checkout is a breeze. Someone in a tiny office in Philadelphia will get a message saying: a book has been sold! It’s lovely. It’s worth it.

News from the Republic of Newsletters

In our small seaside town, down by the piers, in a little apartment above the bookstore, there lives a man who listens to music.

I signed up for a weekly email newsletter with the following premise: “I intend to listen to an album I have never heard before, every day this year. I won’t repeat artists. That’s it.” I’ve received one edition so far and… it might be the best music writing I’ve ever encountered??

I’m an unreliable judge, because music writing often seems to be sending on a frequency to which my antenna is just not tuned. Then again, maybe that makes me the MOST reliable judge! I love a good capsule review—give me one tight paragraph about a work of art; why would you ever need more?—and Tom Ewing’s capsule reviews are terrific.

Alasdair Stuart offered a really thoughtful consideration of “The Sleep Consultant” in his email newsletter. His closing line made me smile—“A complex, weird piece of fiction, mailed internationally, for under 2 dollars.”—because the delivery truly is the thing. Another recipient wrote to remark on the pleasant throwback feeling; turns out, it’s fun to send away for something in the mail, not knowing exactly what it will be, then wait a while for it to arrive. I mean, I’m glad we have the internet, and email, of course—for things like this! But it has never stopped being magic that we can move paper around the world so easily.

Alasdair runs a network of popular podcasts that present readings of short fiction; for a long time now, they’ve been essential nodes in sci-fi and fantasy culture. The original web version of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was read, very early in its life, on Escape Pod, and I am certain that there are several of you subscribed to this email list because you heard that reading more than a decade ago. What a thing.

I love the word “inscrutable” because it reminds us there is a word “scrutable,” which implies the existence of the verb “scrute,” which is wonderful.



February 2019, Berkeley

This website uses the typeface Albertus Nova, an update by Toshi Omagari of Berthold Wolpe’s classic, and GT America, designed by Noël Leu with Seb McLauchlan.

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