It is time for a year in review list. Unfortunately, I have been very far from comprehensive in my cultural consumption. For me this has not been the year of the Eras tour, or Barbie, or Oppenheimer. It has been a year of other things.
1) Ctrl-w. This has been the year of keyboard shortcuts. I am engaged in professional development, and there is nothing more professional in my line of work than staying the hell away from the mouse or trackpad — tools that are really crutches in disguise. Does that sound like a little much? Just be glad that I’m not going to talk about editing config files. There are so many keyboard shortcuts to choose from, but there is only one which I can say will transform your computer usage, Marie Kondo style.
Ctrl-w is a statement about how you mean to live your life, if we accept that how you operate your web browser is a statement about how you live. Ctrl-w is a statement about how you think, how you learn, how you make sense of this world. Ctrl-w will close the current tab.
Nothing is more basic than having a thousand tabs open on your browser. Once you are done with a tab, and lets face it, you are probably already done with it, press that keybinding and it will be gone. Are you truly afraid of losing that webpage? Are you going to let that fear dominate your life? Are you going to let that fear dominate your computer’s RAM? Learn the bookmark shortcut, learn to open a new tab and start typing to search through your bookmarks. Satisfy yourself will find whatever it was you were looking for. The only way you’ll internalize a shortcut is through use, and this year was the year I started putting that shortcut to use.
Do it right now. I fucking dare you. After you have bookmarked this page.
An objectively bad app and site. But nowhere else can I find readers like me, reading the books I am interested in hearing about, giving their thoughts. Book Twitter, while it existed was good. Writers were there, but like Substack now, it was always in danger of being ruined by the tiresome talk of craft, as if we were all doing a mfa on the side. Forget the review aggregation; its all about reviews written by those freaks who read relentlessly. Some strange books have been published in the last century or so and we’re on a grand voyage together to sort through it all.
But, again, the app and site are deeply deficient.
(It’s possible to download your data, so a future project, whenever I get the time, will be to write a little script that can generate a nice static webpage that allows you to navigate your various books and reviews, in the sytle of The Complete Review.)
3) The Last Samurai by Helen deWitt.
Was this the best book I read this year? Possibly, although this isn’t a best of list. It’s just a list.
In case you haven’t heard, it has nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie, aside from the fact that the release of the movie coincided with the release of the book, and was part of a long series of misfortunes that the book and its author suffered. The novel itself concerns Sibylla, a single mother in London who has an obsessive interest in languages and culture that she passes on to her son, Ludo. Ludo is an almost supernaturally equipped vessel for her instruction, and soon demonstrates the hallmarks of a child prodigy who demands that his mother teach him Japanese the way most kids I grew up with demanded an Xbox. Somehow The Last Samurai combines deep ideosyncracy with a very conventional aspirational theme: that we should inspire and educate our very youngest children. It wants to be challenge us as a society, yet at the very same time, isn’t this every striving middle class parent’s aspiration to have their infant reading before the reality of child-rearing crashes into reality? Montaigne’s parents were at it back in the 16th Century, raising little Michel as a native Latin speaker in a Francophone world. What elevates the novel is that the book itself is imbued with the love of language that Sibylla embodies, along with the suggestion that perhaps Sibylla’s devotion to her child’s intellectual development isn’t entirely uncomplicated.
And really Vienna itself. I spent a sweltering summer month in the city and if you have been reading this blog you will see that I have very slowly been working my way through a write up of the diary I kept during that time. But for all the art that I saw, the history I absorbed, the books I read, and the streets I walked, it is this sickly stodgy desert that I must place on the pedestal. I imagine that if you condensed Klimt’s gold phase into a cake, but made it pink, this would be the cake. I have an entire diary entry still to come on the subject.