New music made with AI tools: Brian, the Angel of History EP

Ahoy! This edition of my newsletter appears to be… a gift guide??

I’ll tell you first about a new print zine and an upcoming live stream, then get into the gifts, which, if you can imagine the spookiest possible version of Santa Claus, with shades of Krampus and all three Christmas ghosts from Dickens, oh and also, he’s a wizard, well: this is what’s in his bag.


A page from How to Draw Birds, Insects and Fish Simply

How to Draw Birds, Insects and Fish Simply, Kuwagata Keisai, 1797

This newsletter’s art is a handful of pages from a sketchbook that, although it’s dated 1797, has all the wit and bounce of the best Looney Tunes. There’s a strong whiff of atemporality here, and if you flip through these scans to find the elephants, you won’t be sorry you did.


New offerings! First:

A new print zine is available to order now! Just 89¢ with U.S. postage.

This is the last one of the year: a short story about families, high-tech biology, and the secret origin of the most calamitous event of the late 21st century. It has some of the same near-future gleam as my previous story, “The Sleep Consultant,” and, very subtly, inhabits the same timeline.

Second:

Once again, I’m doing my annual reading of the sublime Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This year, it will happen on New Year’s Day—a date that is of course very important to the story—starting at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. GMT. I’ll send a reminder as December comes to a close, but I invite you to make a note on your calendar now.

The reading will stream live on this page, as ever.


I didn’t start out intending to write one, but, I think… this turned into… a gift guide?? Sort of a strange one. I’ll go in sections.

Subscriptions

Font of the Month Club

↑ If you know someone who appreciates typography, you need to get them a subscription to David Jonathan Ross’s Font of the Month Club. It’s fun to receive (and use!) the fonts, even more fun to read David’s notes on their creation, and MOST FUN OF ALL simply to know you’re a member of something called the Font of the Month Club.

(Trust me: if you arrange this subscription for the right person, you will be treated to the goofy, sputtering reaction reserved only for gifts both perfect and perfectly unanticipated.)

Fat Gold

↑ With my partner Kathryn, I offer a subscription of my own: Fat Gold is four tins of olive oil, each different, delivered over the course of a year. Like fonts, they make a great gift. The zine included with each shipment—written, designed, and printed by me—has come to feel steadily more and more central to the product; it’s really become a weird little olive oil magazine!

Food made by friends

INNA Jam

↑ Our friends at INNA Jam make the best jam in the country, and it is available in extremely cute gift packs, so, come on! My personal faves are Santa Rosa plum and Blenheim apricot, along with salt-preserved Meyer lemon and Bearss lime.

Diaspora

↑ The Oakland spice company Diaspora is engineering a new kind of supply chain—they use the word “decolonized,” which I like—and I think there’s something lovely and timeless about giving spices as gifts. Our pantry is stocked with Diaspora’s turmeric and I am keen to try their black pepper, too.

Enzo's Table

↑ Enzo’s Table is a California smorgasbord. Our household is powered by their almond butter, the best I’ve ever had. Likewise, I believe their Fresno chili olive oil—which is made by tossing bins of whole chilis right into the mill with the olives—to be the world’s best all-around condiment. It is shockingly red—a dramatic and delicious addition to literally anything you’re eating.

Rush orders

Ape & Bird

↑ I love this little company—it’s just two people—called Ape & Bird that manufactures beautiful five-panel hats by hand in Providence. There’s a huge range of customization options available; for my dad, I purchased a corduroy hat with the winter ear flap upgrade.

The deadline to order a hat and have it arrive before the holidays is Monday, December 2 has passed, but/and you can always file this one away for some other occasion, or, for yourself! The hats are truly spectacular, and it’s a real pleasure to follow this determined little business on Instagram.

Bay Area stops

Umami Mart

↑ My strong recommendation for Bay Area readers is to visit Umami Mart in Oakland and select something cute and/or tasty. It is one of the region’s most excellent emporiums, with just the right balance between curation and plenty.

Redfield

↑ Likewise, a visit to Redfield, the serene cider bar and bottle shop on the Oakland/Berkeley border, will yield some tasty gifts indeed.

Things possibly weird to give someone

Serota's Underarm Balm

↑ Is it weird to give someone natural deodorant? I don’t know! But I do know that Serota’s Underarm Balm is the absolute best. For years now, I’ve applied nothing else to my armpits; just the tiniest dab of this herbal-y balm—a friend says it smells like amaro—and you’re set for the day. (“But Robin,” you protest, “I am extremely sweaty.” Ha. Trust me, I was the extremely sweaty one: until Serota’s changed everything.)

Hobonichi planner

↑ Is it weird to give someone a planner? I don’t know! But when the new 2020 Hobonichi planners came out, I bought one to use next year. They are pleasantly and reassuringly Japanese, as much about noticing small moments as getting things done. Will my Hobonichi change my life? Will I lose it by the third week of January? We’ll soon find out…

Okay, yes, finally, books

A New Program for Graphic Design

A *New* Program for Graphic Design, which I praised earlier this year, would make a perfect gift for any designer, maybe an aspiring designer most of all; I think this would be a mind-blowing thing to read at age sixteen or twenty. This is the kind of book that could like… set you on a path. Order it directly from the publisher.

Dead Astronauts

↑ There are great novels, and then there are great novels that make great gifts, and to achieve the latter, a novel needs presence. That’s a little bit rare these days; or, maybe it’s just that presence is fine-tuned, increasingly, for two dimensions—Instagram, basically—rather than three, or even four, which is to say, the experience in time of opening a book, exploring it. Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer, due out this week from MCD, is… extremely present, with a trippy chromatic cover and text that begins, in blue ink, on the boards: as if it can’t wait to get out of the book, into your brain. For any adventurous fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and/or horror, this book offers not only a rewarding read but, like, a thing to possess.

The Walking Man

↑ One of my all-time favorite comics, The Walking Man by Jiro Taniguchi, has a freshly expanded edition due out this week. This is a really special book: calm and cosmic, drawn with breathtaking precision and… what else could you call it but love? If you know a fan of graphic novels and/or walking, this one will resonate on a deep, deep frequency. Get the new edition at a comic book store or order it from Green Apple Books.

So Many Books

↑ I’ve often recommended Gabriel Zaid’s slim, punchy volume titled So Many Books, and it remains a perfect gift for any book lover, particularly in combination with a stack of other books. “And now,” this one will suggest, “after all that… maybe, just maybe… you ought to read ME.” It is lean, whippy, and wise—in other words, ideal. You can order it directly from the publisher, Paul Dry Books, for under $10.

(Another Paul Dry fave: The Usefulness of the Useless.)

Hild

↑ I’ve been recommending this novel every winter for years, so why would I stop now? Hild by Nicola Griffith: a tale from 7th-century England, deeply researched, engrossingly told. It offers the deliciousness of medieval court intrigue with the additional benefit of actually having to something to say, historically and politically. It’s a big, thick book: sponge for cold, dark hours. They’ve got plenty of copies ready for you at Powell’s.

King Arthur

↑ You could order a real live sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour… and pair it with Sourdough by Robin Sloan! Now that’s a high-concept gift. It would be great for anyone you know who likes baking, or robots, or baking with robots.


I have this recurring idea that I could start a tiny, idiosyncratic bookstore—online, obviously—for which I would purchase a few cartons of all these books I find myself recommending so consistently, and then just sell them directly. With like, a nerdy little zine tucked into each book when it goes out the door (of the fulfillment center) (nooo I’m not packing these myself).

Bookstores are—you might know this—one of the last remaining consignment businesses. If a bookstore doesn’t sell all the books it orders, it can return them to the distributor for a full refund. Generally, this fact causes me suffering, so why not establish another context in which it works to my advantage??


Here’s a book recommendation that’s more “what to read during the holidays” than “what to give as a gift”:

This week, I finished the third in a trilogy by Adam Brookes that begins with Night Heron, continues into Spy Games, and concludes with The Spy’s Daughter, and I can report to you that they are the best spy novels I’ve read in years. Legitimately gripping—I stayed up late to finish the last one—and totally literary. Also: usefully contemporary, with some very nice depictions of deeply unglamorous tradecraft, including one detailed sequence that follows a character on the run and manages to make VPNs thrilling.

I will warn you, however, that if the first novel in the trilogy is steely, and the second is gritty, then the third is heartbreaking—really truly.


A page from How to Draw Birds, Insects and Fish Simply

How to Draw Birds, Insects and Fish Simply, Kuwagata Keisai, 1797

Look at those little guys. Kuwagata Keisai would be perfectly at home at Pixar!

1797!

Here’s one more reminder to jot a note on your calendar, analog or digital, for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight on New Year’s Day. I’ve done this reading for two years running, and I think I’ve finally got the voices down.

From rainy California,

Robin


For many years, I have called the recipients of these messages the Society of the Double Dagger. If you’d like to know why, read this. If you’d like to join, just use the form below. Never fear: it’s also very easy to unsubscribe.