Robin Sloan
main newsletter
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 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


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.


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,


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

November 2022