Robin Sloan
main newsletter
December 2022

I’ll take all of that ya got

Mond-Atlas: Gassendi, 1912, Johann Nepomuk Krieger
Mond-Atlas: Gassendi, 1912, Johann Nepomuk Krieger

I’ve just dispatched, to my lab newsletter subscribers, an essay imagining a year of new avenues. It’s an assess­ment of where we’re at, suddenly, excitingly, on the internet, and an exhor­ta­tion for what comes next, in 2023.

This isn’t for everyone; that’s why I have two newslet­ters! I know many of you are, very reasonably, bored by the meta-internet stuff. But, the essay has already received a warm response, and it’s an expres­sion of a very deep interest, so it felt almost sneaky not to share a link here.

You can always subscribe to that lab newsletter on my home page.


Many of you know that, every year on New Year’s Day, I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight aloud, streaming it live on YouTube for anyone who wants to tune in.

Well, I am going to skip my reading this year. There’s a difference, I think, between the ritual and the rote, and I found that, as I squared up to this year’s presentation, I just … wasn’t feeling it!

If you’d planned to tune in, here’s what I recommend — or really, what I require: get a copy of the book and read it aloud yourself. Read it to your family; read it to your friends; read it to an empty room. (I have done all three of these things.) Reading aloud, rather than listening, you’ll discover that the galloping allit­er­a­tion plays tricks with your face.

It’s impos­sible not to laugh.

Five or six centuries ago, this rollicking/sexy/spooky poem was composed. It comes to us through a single manuscript, one that sat in darkness, ignored, for most of those years; a manuscript that escaped destruction — the fire at Ashburnham House—by pure chance. It comes to us safe, intact, glittering, renewed, filtered through the mind and tongue of Simon Armitage.

I mean, this is what it’s all about. We writers, we readers, we translators, we publishers, we librarians, in every language, the living and the dead: we make a thread through history, and it’s a Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that shows us, it works. It HAS worked. It WILL work. In the end, we can’t be beat.

Read it aloud!

I’ll be back next year.


This edition’s images are so cool that I feel compelled to explain them up here at the top, rather than tuck it into the conclusion.

These lunar maps are the work of Johann Krieger, an amateur astronomer and selenog­ra­pher (!) who produced them in an inter­esting way. He obtained large, fuzzy photographs of the moon, developed at obser­va­to­ries in Paris and elsewhere, to use as his “base layers”. Then, looking through his own telescope, he added fine details by hand, with charcoal and ink.

In these images, the smooth gray fields are the silver halide; the sharp dark fissures are Krieger’s own hand. Isn’t that phenomenal? As a result, they are neither “photos of the moon” nor “drawings of the moon” but something in between. And they’re stunning.

I was very glad to learn about Krieger, and see some nice repro­duc­tions of these images, reading The Moon by Bill Leatherbarrow.

Mond-Atlas: Fracastorius, 1893, Johann Nepomuk Krieger
Mond-Atlas: Fracastorius, 1893, Johann Nepomuk Krieger

Onward, to some items of interest. First, the basics:

Appreciating Dracula

I mentioned a while back that I’d listened to Franken­stein, this great audiobook recording. I’ve now followed it up with Dracula, and I will note that


My bandmate Jesse Solomon Clark crafted a suite of soundscapes for Death: Life’s Greatest Mystery, a sprawling new exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. If you are in the area, this is a must-see and a must-hear.


M. John Harrison is, very simply, the best:

Walking between the old squatter cottages in The Jitties — in cold air and near dark, through mizzling rain — I hear a voice coming from a parked car. It’s American, intimate yet resonant, penetrating, conscious of an audience, and it’s reading from someone’s new novel, one of those clever first person deliv­eries designed to imply a listener in the text. There’s no driver in the car. There’s no one in the car at all. Its engine is running, it’s stopped at an angle at a corner in a billow of its own smoke. I walk past and go home thinking how much I’d like to win that Radio Four lottery and have my new book read that way, loudly but personably, to an empty lane at the end of November.

I mean: just the best.

Reading his writing, at every length, in every medium, I always think of Future Islands on the Late Show, and an ecstatic David Letterman hooting: “I’ll take all of that ya got!”


Here is Jack White of Michigan playing the anthem that will outlive him, and all of us, and probably all the governments, too. Folk music!

Mond-Atlas: Posidonius, 1897, Johann Nepomuk Krieger
Mond-Atlas: Posidonius, 1897, Johann Nepomuk Krieger

I subscribe to plenty of newslet­ters, and plenty, I open only occasionally. Others, I open without fail, instantly, almost reflexively: a habit more of my body than my brain. I like the way this one makes me feel, says the gut. Yeah, it’s always got a good vibe, agrees the jaw.

Here are a few of the newslet­ters my body likes best.

Flywheel

This newsletter by Puneeth Meruva is an energetic effort to define, and even evangelize, the market for used e-bikes in the U.S. The center­piece is a weekly roundup of used e-bike deals scouted on Craigslist in a few big cities.

I appreciate this newsletter for at least two reasons:

  1. I want to get an e-bike, eventually; and

  2. it’s just so SPECIFIC!

Here is somebody who said: I think the world needs something like this. Here is somebody who went ahead and made it.

The Syllabus

This newsletter seems to trawl a whole different web — one that’s more academic, cosmopolitan, recherché. I think of myself as someone who can handle that kind of stuff (I used the word recherché, didn’t I?) but/and I am pretty often chal­lenged by The Syllabus. It’s a healthy stretch.

My favorite recurring feature is the video of the week, usually an academic lecture posted on YouTube, usually with something like 500 views: truly, this is the secret knowledge. The most recent video of the week was Jennifer Taback’s Brief — and Subjective — History of Geometry, which I’ve queued up to watch later.

Interconnected

I was going to recommend Matt Webb’s blog as an effer­ves­cent fountain of ideas, but, as I was assem­bling this newsletter, his latest post arrived by email, and it’s about carbon­ated beef broth, so I’ll still recommend it, but with the proviso that sometimes, the effer­ves­cence is … meat.

The Morning News

This newsletter is a long-running stalwart of the web; I’m sure I have subscribed several times. Here is my recent rediscovery: it’s really great! A daily handful of links, each wrapped in a twist of thoughtful language: a perfectly 2000s package that never went out of style.

My favorite item from a recent edition was this one:

“Lionel Messi doesn’t so much trap the ball or kill it but lets it come and nestle, falling asleep on his toe like a fond old cat.” Even if you don’t like soccer, some of the writing’s pretty good.

I don’t like soccer; I clicked; I agree!

Notes from a Small Press

Anne Trubek’s newsletter is THE great chronicle of publishing in America in the early 21st century. Full stop.

Her position operating a small book publisher in Pitts­burgh gives her a uniquely panoramic view. She can see “all the way up” into the world of New York publishing, big book distributors, goliath paper mills; she can see “all the way down” into self-publishing, print on demand, the scramble for scarce attention. She can see how it’s not “up” or “down” at all, but a tangled-ass web.

Her hard-won insights arrive in a voice that’s always honest, sometimes exasperated, totally compelling. I recommend subscribing, AND buying a book, OR a deck of Great Lakes tarot cards … !

Ridgeline & Roden

I feel like Craig Mod and I have been fellow travelers in a lot of ways, so I’m often guilty of assuming that everyone reading this is, OF COURSE, also reading him.

If not: Craig is an inde­pen­dent writer and photog­ra­pher who lives in Japan and often builds his work around very, VERY long walks. I recommend subscribing to both of his newslet­ters—Ridgeline for gonzo walks, Roden for gonzo every­thing else — because they operate on at least two levels:

  1. their intrinsic quality, founded in Craig’s sense of fun, his eye (sharp) and ear (sharper); and also

  2. the example they provide, of a person carving out a creative life, making the money work, grappling with the big questions, and sharing what he learns, with stupen­dous clarity and generosity.

Craig’s latest Roden dispatch, about returning to the drum set after years away, was a stunning piece of real-time memoir, easily New Yorker-quality — or better; does the New Yorker ever fly this fast, this high? — and it might therefore make a good introduction.

The Weekly Planet

In his climate newsletter, Robinson Meyer’s voice is what I would call “winning”, an English word that unfor­tu­nately has no direct trans­la­tion in English. Forced to elaborate, I’d say it is confident, inviting, serious, and fun. That some of those features seem contra­dic­tory is the nature of the win.

This edition from back in August, pegged to the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act, reminded me power­fully of the magazine articles I used to read as an under­grad­uate at Michigan State: the way they seemed to pull back the skin of the world, revealing the gears of policy whirring underneath. It was thrilling, back then, and reading Robinson in August, I felt the thrill return. There is a physical reaction; a tingling of elec­tricity beneath the scalp.

See? The body.

Mond-Atlas: Lacus Somniorum, 1897, Johann Nepomuk Krieger
Mond-Atlas: Lacus Somniorum, 1897, Johann Nepomuk Krieger

I love this season, because it follows a flurry of activity — I’ve never in my life had months as mad as these olive harvests coupled with the rush of holiday commerce — and brings release, and rain, and hibernation, and scheming.

This newsletter has a new name, but an old design. I’ve been working on a refresh that is a little weird, and therefore exciting, which I’ll unveil in the new year.

And there’s much more to come. It’s strange … I have discov­ered in myself, as I consider the publi­ca­tions ahead, a titanic confidence, which supports, in turn, an unex­pected patience. I never had that before; I was always a bit frantic.

You might find this new mood a bit frustrating, I acknowledge, when you’re out there waiting on this book.

But wow it is going to be a big one.

Have a great holiday. Happy New Year!

From Oakland,

Robin

P.S. You’ll receive my next newsletter on January 6.

December 2022