Robin Sloan
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November 2022

Robin’s 2022 gift guide

I sent the first of these guides on a whim in 2020, and the reac­tion was so pos­i­tive that I resolved to keep send­ing them. Here is 2022’s edition.

My first dis­claimer, always, is that many rec­om­men­da­tions are repeated, year to year, because many things remain wonderful. I feel bad for the com­pil­ers of “proper” gift guides, e.g. on gad­get web­sites, who have to go hunt­ing every year for novelty. (Maybe they ought to rebel, and insist, “Last year’s Blue­tooth speaker remains PER­FECTLY WHOOMPHY!”)

My other dis­claimer is that this guide is totally U.S.-centric. Some of these items are avail­able in other countries, but I don’t know which ones exactly, so I’ll request your pardon, again, for my parochialism.

I believe con­sum­able gifts are the best gifts, so the guide is front-loaded with those. They are fol­lowed by durable goods and then, of course: BOOKS!

The introductory course

Fat Gold gift set
Fat Gold gift set

Of course I have to begin with this, or my strategem is for naught. Fat Gold, recall, is the small com­pany that I co-founded with Kathryn Tomajan. We pro­duce Cal­i­for­nia extra vir­gin olive oil; in fact, I’m writ­ing this newslet­ter in hours stolen from the olive harvest, still underway.

This year, for the first time, we’re offer­ing a gift set, which com­bines a tin of our Stan­dard oil (bold and peppery) with a tin of our Blue oil (fragrant and fruity) and a limited-edition 24-page recipe zine, which also includes a concise, com­pelling intro­duc­tion to extra vir­gin olive oil. The zine was printed on a Riso­graph by a tiny stu­dio here in Oakland; long­time read­ers will under­stand how much I love this.

If you know some­one who has expressed cau­tious inter­est in extra vir­gin olive oil, this is the gift for them. You can order anytime; the gift sets will all ship on Decem­ber 15.

The graduate seminar

Enzo Olio Nuovo

In Italy, olio nuovo is a tra­di­tional offer­ing of the season: olive oil fresh from the mill, bot­tled while it’s still cloudy with lit­tle par­ti­cles of fruit and micro-droplets of water. This makes for an inter­esting fla­vor — it’s almost toothsome, like hazy beer — and also short­ens the shelf life. Olio nuovo is for enjoy­ing and using RIGHT NOW. Ideally, you’d glug it all before New Year’s Day.

Fat Gold doesn’t pro­duce an olio nuovo, so let me rec­om­mend instead the offer­ing from ENZO Olive Oil Company, grown in the Cal­i­for­nia’s San Joaquin Val­ley and milled just about … a week ago?! Yep, that’s new oil.

Beyond their olive oil, Enzo’s Table is a cornucopia. Their almond but­ter is the best I’ve ever had; likewise, they bake my favorite biscotti in the world.

The jam band

INNA Jam
INNA Jam

My friends at INNA Jam make the best jam in the country; one of them is also my band­mate in The Cot­ton Modules, so, yes, it’s all totally inter­twined over here.

Their flexible subscription makes a great ongo­ing gift. Not only is the jam itself sub­limely good, but it’s always pack­aged beau­ti­fully, so the whole expe­ri­ence is very fun and ceremonious. If a sub­scrip­tion is too much, con­sider a jar or three of their black mis­sion fig jam. Ina Garten is on the record say­ing it’s her favorite!

I want to spare a word, also, for their line of shrubs, which offer a fun, fes­tive alter­na­tive to booze for non-drinkers and/or young revelers. I was vis­it­ing a friend’s house recently, where each kid, ages 4-10, mer­rily pre­pared their own drink, first select­ing a favorite fla­vor of shrub, then top­ping it with a float of sparkling water. “Those are some fancy kids,” I said to myself. Yes — and that’s some tasty shrub.

The wild one

Tart Vinegar
Tart Vinegar

Tart Vinegar is a small-batch vine­gar pro­ducer with the spirit of an inde­pen­dent press and/or a punk band.

As an aes­thetic project, it’s bold and arresting, sin­gu­lar and personal. As vine­gar: it’s delicious! That’s a rare treat, when vibe matches quality.

My favorite, the Ocean Vinegar, is cur­rently sold out. You should watch for its reappearance; made from kombu, bladderwrack, and Irish sea moss, it’s some­thing really special. In the meantime, you can try vine­gars as var­i­ous as Celery, Lavender, and Sumac.

Sumac!!

The salt upgrade

Daybread Seaweed Company
Daybread Seaweed Company

Daybreak Sea­weed Company’s sea­weed salt is my daily staple.

Nearly every morning, I make toast (Josey Baker’s Whole Grain Won­der Bread) and slather it with peanut but­ter (crunchy) then splash that with olive oil (Fat Gold) and top the whole pro­duc­tion with a gen­er­ous sprin­kle of Daybreak’s sea­weed salt.

This pro­vides my fuel for most of the day, and, indeed, most of my work. If you have ever read any­thing I’ve writ­ten and thought, “Well, I enjoyed that,” thank the peanut but­ter, and the olive oil, and the sea­weed salt.

Plain salt, even the fancy flaky kind, is no longer sufficient. If I were a Roman soldier, you’d have to pay me in this.

The chile revolutionaries

Chile powders from Boonville Barn Collective
Chile powders from Boonville Barn Collective

The cul­ti­va­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of chiles by Boonville Barn Col­lec­tive has been, for me, a revolution. I am now a true believer; a zealot. I honestly didn’t know chiles could taste this good! Fresh fruiti­ness and savory depth and a fine, clear heat; the unde­ni­able sense of sun­shine cap­tured in physical form.

I’ve men­tioned before that I am obsessed with their whole dried chiles, e.g. these cas­ca­bels from 2021. (Keep an eye out for the new ancho chiles when they come online … ) I also rec­om­mend their poblano chile powder and their smoky Piment d’Ville. Their Calabrian chile flakes are sold out, but those are obvi­ously a must-have when they reappear.

Some amount (dash, pinch, avalanche) of some Boonville Barn Col­lec­tive prod­uct (powder, flake, whole chile) makes its way into nearly every­thing I cook, and I just don’t know why you’d choose to live any other way. (That’s the zealot talking.)

The magic bag

Tsuchiya Kaban
Tsuchiya Kaban

This is a pricy rec­om­mendation; I acknowl­edge that. But, some people are in the market for pricy rec­om­men­da­tions; some peo­ple, furthermore, are in the mar­ket for items that might last a lifetime. I haven’t owned my Tsuchiya Kaban bag for a lifetime, only about a year, but already, I can report that it is one of my favorite things I’ve ever purchased.

It’s the kind of prod­uct that a picture doesn’t really capture, because so much of its appeal is the specific feel, the spe­cific smell. None of that was appar­ent when I ordered this bag, of course; I could only stare at the pic­tures online (for weeks, calculating, amortizing); so, when it arrived, this extra layer of sen­sory pleasure, this mate­r­ial reality, hit like a rogue wave out of nowhere. I was done for, the moment I opened the box.

This com­pany has a LOT of offer­ings, and a lot of them aren’t for me. I find myself mag­ne­tized by their Tone Oil­nume line, to which this bag belongs; the tex­ture is amazing. I got a wallet to tuck inside — I am going to acknowl­edge again, this stuff is not cheap!! — and I’m glad I did.

People talk, sometimes, about the aura of craft; the feel­ing you get from an object that its maker really cared about. If such an aura exists — and I believe it does — Tsuchiya Kaban’s prod­ucts are incan­des­cent with it.

The happy scrubber

Kamenoko Tawashi cleaning brush
Kamenoko Tawashi cleaning brush

For years, I used a long-handled plas­tic brush to scrub dishes and scour pans. It was cheap and charmless, and the angle of the han­dle was some­how always wrong. This brush made me slightly angry every time I used it.

I finally got wise and dis­carded that brush, replac­ing it with a cou­ple of these bristly dudes from Jinen, the great Japanophile emporium. Like the old brush, they are cheap; unlike the old brush, they are fun and inter­esting. Using them makes me happy, not angry.

Take some time to explore Jinen’s offer­ings; I guarantee you’ll find a trea­sure or three. The Hibi incense matches are wonderful.

The unlikely gadget

A set of hair clippers with a hollow chamber in the center, shielded by blue plastic. They look like something out of Star Trek.
Remington Vacuum Haircut Kit

This is one of those gad­gets that seems like it should be good in theory, a dis­as­ter in practice. Here’s the twist: it really works!

The Remington HKVAC2000C, with its BUILT-IN VACUUM, sort of changed my life. I keep my hair buzzed short, head and beard alike. Main­te­nance is just a quick ses­sion with a clip­per every week or so. Historically, this meant an explo­sion of tiny hair clippings. Of course, I tried my best to clean up; of course, I always missed some. Thus, I left behind a dust­ing of annoy­ing evidence; thus, I became a monster. I was tired of being a monster.

As a hair clip­per, this gad­get is exactly average. As a gift — really, a great courtesy — to the other peo­ple in your household, and/or your future self … it is unprecedented.

The praise magnet

Wax London overshirt
Wax London overshirt

I was torn on includ­ing this; more than any of my other rec­om­men­da­tions, it feels like sur­rend­ing a secret. That’s absurd, of course: this over­shirt was adver­tised to me on Instagram. And yet! And yet. It has gen­er­ated more com­pli­ments, more steadily, than any arti­cle of cloth­ing I have ever owned.

Wax London’s over­shirts are mildly premium-priced, but honestly, the expense-to-praise ratio is very, very favorable. There are many col­or­ways to choose from; I do not know if they all gen­er­ate com­pli­ments at the same rate.

The whole thing is pleas­antly mysterious, because the overshirt does not, to me, seem that remarkable. In fact, after I received it, I thought I’d prob­a­bly return it; buuut I forgot about it, and the return win­dow closed … you know how it goes. Then, when I wore it into the world, I was buf­feted with praise; incredible. It keeps happening. My instincts are all wrong, and this over­shirt is all right.

It would make a good gift for some­one who appre­ci­ates a nice piece of light out­er­wear and could, perhaps, use a few more com­pli­ments in their life.

The books of the year

These two nov­els were, for me, the books of the year. I truly think any fic­tion reader will love at least one of them.

The Mountain in the Sea, MCD Books
The Mountain in the Sea, MCD Books

Ray Nayler’s The Moun­tain in the Sea is the great near-future sci­ence fic­tion novel. It is inter­ested in different kinds of minds — ALL the dif­fer­ent kinds. There are octo­puses in these pages, and androids, and a bale­ful silent AI ship cap­tain that is, for me, the most potent vil­lain to appear in any medium in years.

It’s worth buy­ing this novel in print, in part, for the beau­ti­fully ren­dered glyphs that rep­re­sent a nascent octo­pus language. I don’t want to say too much more, because dis­cov­er­ing them — decoding them! — is part of the fun. I just want to affirm that this book, like most of MCD’s publications, really earns its physicality.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Knopf
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Knopf

Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomor­row tracks a deep cre­ative rela­tion­ship over decades; it is, in that sense, a pro­fes­sional love story, and why don’t we have more of those?

There are pro­fes­sional love sto­ries behind so many of the things we enjoy most — our favorite movies, or musicals, or video games. The lat­ter pro­vides the milieu for this novel, but it’s impor­tant to say that even if you’ve never played a video game — even if you find them totally cryptic — there is still so much wait­ing for you in this novel that is real and wise and human.

And, hey, maybe it’ll get you into video games!

I found this novel’s moments of tri­umph totally electric, phys­i­cally thrilling; some of its other moments, one in particular, made me cry.

The unproblematic fave

People, Doubleday
People, Doubleday

I have fond, intense mem­o­ries of reading, and rereading, and read­ing again the children’s pic­ture book by Peter Spier titled simply: Peo­ple.

It belongs to a genre that was always cat­nip to me: encyclopedic, with each spread of pages offer­ing dozens of tiny, detailed draw­ings to pore over. Spier drew bodies; he drew eyes; noses; houses; hobbies. He drew so many of the things that make us who we are.

A book about human dif­fer­ence orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1980 does not necessarily sound like some­thing that would stand the test of time. It is a tes­ta­ment to how totally ahead of the curve Peter Spier was — or, perhaps, to the dura­bil­ity of sincere curiosity — that Peo­ple remains, in 2022, totally unproblematic.

This book would make a great gift for any child in your life. I believe that it had a seri­ously con­struc­tive effect on me, though of course I didn’t under­stand at the time just how impres­sive it was. I just loved look­ing at the drawings — SO many draw­ings — of human vari­a­tion and inven­tion in all its forms.

As I write this, and remem­ber how much time I spent with this book, I’m tear­ing up a lit­tle bit. Peter Spier died in 2017. What a contribution.

The surprise factory

Shuna's Journey, First Second
Shuna's Journey, First Second

I’m an intense fan of Hayao Miyazaki, the guid­ing force behind Stu­dio Ghi­bli films like My Neigh­bor Totoro and Kiki’s Deliv­ery Service. I have, therefore, already acquired two copies of Shuna’s Jour­ney, his early manga just pub­lished in Eng­lish for the first time — one as a gift, the other for myself.

You can order Shuna’s Jour­ney from 50 Watts Books. While you’re there, you might also order:

50 Watts Books is THE source online for books that are beau­ti­ful and surprising; books you didn’t know you ought to be look­ing for, because who could imag­ine there might exist a book in which every page is just a gor­geous close-up photo of rock, richly col­ored and tex­tured?

(Yes, I bought that one.)

The new editions

A fine-looking pair from MCD
A fine-looking pair from MCD

I’ve hooted about these for months, so I’ll keep it short. I don’t need much space, anyway; my case is airtight. These books

You see? It has the inevitabil­ity of a math­e­mat­i­cal proof. Call up your local bookstore, say you’d like to get the two Sloan nov­els. Make sure they are these new editions, pub­lished in 2022.


That con­cludes this year’s gift guide! Thanks, as always, for following along.

From Oakland,

Robin

P.S. I’ll be back on Decem­ber 7 with another proper newslet­ter.

November 2022