Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Book Facade

After reading about why people would use a book by the foot service to fill their empty shelves, I wondered what books I would have on my shelves if I were vain enough to use a personal bookshelf as a backdrop for Zoom calls. (Right now, I just have a blank wall.) I’m afraid my answer would be depressingly simple. I would just have science books on the shelves. Obviously I would have actually read them all, but I think my choice of subject pretty much reveals that I have no confidence in other people taking me seriously if I don’t show books that are socially and professionally acceptable.

I think we all erect some sort of facade by what we decide to reveal about our reading tastes to others, even if we’ve read the books in question and are not just using them as decorations. It can even be skewed further these days as many people read library books rather than buy them or have transitioned towards ebooks. After getting rid of most of my physical library from my last move, I’m one of those people who have mostly transitioned to ebooks. So just looking at the physical books remaining won’t tell you the whole story.

Anyways, back to the “book by the foot” thing. I think if I were to utilize such a service to fill an entire library and not just a shelf in the background, I would be a pretty obnoxious customer because I wouldn’t want it just to be random or done by color. I would specify subjects–like the sciences, heavy on biology. History of science, maybe some biographies of scientists and engineers as well. Art and architecture, the weirder the better. Mythology and folklore. If there’s religion, it must be academic. Atlases and travel (both guide books and travel memoirs are fine). Cooking books–but only ones with a strong academic bent either towards science or ethnography. Archaeology and anthropology. History–but it would have to be all sorts of places and not just “classical Western civilization”. As for fiction, I’m rather neutral on the majority of genres, but I would like an emphasis on speculative fiction (i.e. science fiction/fantasy/horror) and modern literature in translation if we’re talking about hard copies and not ebooks.

Well, now that I’ve listed only a subset of what I would find acceptable, what would I not want on my shelves? I have no patience for new age woo and self help books. Politics and biographies of current celebrities–blech. Business books written by quacks. And bestsellers that were probably ghost written. I guess, in general, I like books that are interesting and reveal that the writer has an interest in the world. Books that are only self-serving turn me off real quick.

New Aesthetics

Most of the time, when I have YouTube in the background, I’m playing a lot of classical or ambient music because it’s both soothing and not too distracting. But lately, YouTube has been recommending these things called “dark academia playlists” which don’t make much sense to me. I’ve listened to some of them, but they’re mostly like mixtapes of well-known classical pieces in the romantic or impressionistic genres with the occasional annoying Russian waltz thrown in here or there.

What I find fascinating is that there’s a whole fandom around these YouTube channels that make these sorts of playlists. There are people who write fanfiction based on the mood that these playlists invoke as soon as these playlists are posted. I mean, I understand why people would like to write fanfiction, but why write it in the YouTube comments section specifically? Why not post it on a dedicated fanfiction site like AO3 instead?

Another question I had was, “What is dark academia?” Well, it turns out that the explanation for dark academia is on Wikipedia. Even the New York Times covered the phenomenon last summer. And you know, if the New York Times has covered it, the fad is probably seven-eighths already out the door if not already completely out of the building. Apparently this started on TikTok and Tumblr, both of which I do not pay any attention to, so no wonder I am out of the loop. 

Dark academia is not a unique phenomenon, however. It is part of a series of related aesthetics that seem to have sprung up while I was not looking. You could probably get lost on the Aesthetics Wiki just reading about all of them. But if you want to boil it down to something simple:  they’re themes that people use to evoke a mood or decorate or enhance a lifestyle. It’s more of a state of mind than any statement about who people really are. And I guess they’re popular now because everyone’s desperate for a different state of mind after being trapped at home for nearly a year.

Keeping Track of Journals

I suppose the obvious question would be, “Why don’t you just organize everything online?” Well, for one thing, I don’t want everything about my life online. I am fine keeping all my to do lists and trackers offline. This is not minutiae that should be available for Google.

That is where journals come in. I probably have too many journals. At the moment, I have two and a half boxes full of blank journals and notebooks, and I’m making myself not buy any more until I’ve finished a significant number of them. Of the journals that are in progress, I have different ones going, each for a different activity. And then I have one “master” journal which keeps track of which ones I’ve worked on each day. This helps me to not forget to work on each of them. This master journal is just a big to do list with dates.

The next logical question to ask, of course, is why I’m not putting everything into one journal and just finishing one journal at a time rather than a gigantic stack that I have to go through every day. Why can’t I just have a bullet journal to keep track of everything? Well, for one thing, bullet journals seem like a total pain in the butt. I want organization but I don’t want to spend time doing that organization. (Just watch any YouTube video on how to create a bullet journal–it’s too much work.) And second, I am not going to mix my work-related stuff with my fiction writing or my trackers for my other hobbies. They need to stay separate.

Is any of this organization working? Well, I suppose so. I finished one notebook over the holiday break and then another one this past weekend. I will get through them slowly but surely and then maybe I might be able to buy more notebooks when we’re all able to wander outside without restrictions.

Puzzle Boxes

I’m sure there will be people complaining that this is just an unboxing video on steroids, but I  think the genre of YouTube videos where people solve puzzle boxes is really cool. Here’s the most recent one I watched which involved a $30,000 puzzle box. It’s part of a series of linked puzzle videos with an overarching time travel storyline. I’m personally not much of a fan of time travel as a genre, but I am a sucker for puzzles with storylines, so this was totally up my alley.

In a way, I vicariously enjoy other people having  fun with solving clever puzzles that I have no access to, but I’m also fascinated by the thought and engineering that goes into making those puzzles. I think coming up with the puzzles would be easier than the actual construction. But writing the storyline would be kind of tricky, too. How would you make it so that it feels like the puzzle is part of a larger fictional world without it becoming cheesy?

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I think it would be interesting to make an entire house a puzzle game. And I think puzzle boxes would certainly be part of that. Come to think of it, if someone actually made a TV show with a bunch of people trapped in a house or castle and the focus was on solving puzzles cooperatively rather than gossip and backstabbing, it would probably be one of the few reality shows I’d consider watching.

I Need to Listen to Something Relaxing

As I’m writing this, it’s the evening of January 6 and I decided to cut myself off from doomscrolling for the rest of the day. When I woke up this morning, I thought I might end the day by writing a Postcrossing postcard to a stranger to brighten up their mailbox but, well, look where we are now.

I won’t rehash the news–I assume everyone’s seen it by now.  And if you’re living in the far future and reading this, hopefully you can look up some records to figure out what happened unless someone came in and already sanitized history. Which is the weird thing really–have you ever lived through something that you think might make at the very least a footnote in the history books only to get the sense that it’s quite possible someone might also rewrite or erase what has happened?

There’s a saying that history is written by the victors. At this point, I’m not sure it really matters who the authors of history are if people don’t even read. People keep saying that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m just tired that there are too many delusional and unkind people literally out there because they think they can do whatever they want without consequence.

Strange Recommendations

Ah, the YouTube algorithm, both mysterious and weird. I was recently recommended some videos of “castles on sale” which didn’t really seem similar to anything I had been watching on  YouTube lately. These videos show tours inside these castles without any narration. What I don’t understand is why these videos are on YouTube at all.  Surely the clientele for these expensive money pits would be finding these estates through their personal connections or high end realtors rather than searching YouTube.

I find that there’s a certain fascination and repulsion in watching these castle videos which show a sort of rich lifestyle that most people will never attain. In the real world, these buildings are a stark reminder that there’s still so much inequity in the world and that there are people out there still perpetuating it.

On the other hand, I have a weird fascination with extremely large buildings with many rooms. I think it’s because it’s such a large and labyrinthine space that if you have any exploratory urges, you start feeling the itch to see what those places hide. It would be intriguing to turn one of those castles into a giant escape room game (except it would be escaping the castle, not just one room). I don’t know what the point of solving such a game would be, but the thought of people attempting to solve puzzles in a castle amuses me.

Postcard Set Review #5: American Impressionism by Pomegranate Communications

This book of postcards is no flash in the pan–the most recent edition that I bought from the local Half Price Books was in fact the “11th edition” (i.e.  the 2014 edition)–which I will be reviewing separately because it is quite different from the older versions. This particular post is about the 2007 edition and I’ve included scans of this below. Anyways, I really do enjoy impressionism as an art style and as a movement. I am the most familiar with impressionism in music–particularly Debussy and Ravel because I played their piano pieces when I was a teenager. It’s a bit dreamy and romantic, almost otherworldly.

American impressionism has it’s own twist. I find it more bold, brash, and bright.  The artists featured in this postcard book are not as well known. (You can see the list of them here.) But that doesn’t mean that their talent doesn’t come across as well. But if you’re looking for John  Singer Sargent or Mary Cassatt, you may need to look elsewhere (like the newer edition). The selection for the 2007 edition, I feel, is lackluster at best. There are some bucolic scenes that might put one in a deep sleep rather than a dreamy awareness.

In terms of practicality, this is a Pomegranate postcard book, so it’s your typical oversized tear-out postcards with sturdy yet glossy card stock. Compared to other Pomegranate postcard books, it’s not particularly outstanding. If you’re trying to find that postcard with a wow factor, it’s not here. If you specifically want American impressionist paintings with wow factor, definitely check out the newer edition. But they are perfectly acceptable to send if you don’t want to offend anyone.

Tea Rituals or Lack Thereof

As a teenager, I was a science nerd through and through and the only magazines I read with any regularity were Natural History, National Geographic, and Asimov’s Science Fiction. So it was with utter surprise that when I clicked on a link to read an article on tea rituals, it turned out to be on Teen Vogue. And even more surprising was that in its first photograph, it features a book prominently. And not just any book. It’s a book that I got when it first released: Dark Archives by Megan Rosenbloom. What the heck is a book with science and history doing on Teen Vogue? Have teens ditched the gossip for the geek? Or is this an outlier due to the pandemic keeping everyone at home so that there was no gossip to be had?

The writer of that article touts the comfort that the rituals of tea making and tea drinking are for her during the pandemic when everyone is trapped inside and social life is limited to videos on the computer screen.  I can see her point, but for me, tea making and tea drinking are as mundane as brushing my teeth. I don’t have any rituals–I just make it and drink it while I work or read. It’s always the auxiliary to something else, not a singular event in my day that I make time for. There’s always something else demanding my attention and there’s not enough time  in the day to do everything, let alone just sitting around and sipping tea.

As for the tea itself, I’m the sort of person who drinks it hot and unadulterated. Unless you’re deliberately making bubble tea/boba tea or southern sweet iced tea (which I consider completely different drinks), adding milk and sugar is unnecessary. And getting an electric water kettle right at the beginning of the pandemic last year was probably one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I get hot water much faster than the old fashioned kettle on the stove. Which means getting a second cup of tea is no longer an obnoxious wait any more.

A ritual implies that you’ve got time to do it. I feel like I never have enough time. So for me,  it’s just fast tea for now.

Postcard Set Review #4: Cats by Browntrout Publishers

Before all you cat lovers frantically search on your favorite bookseller’s website for this title, I want to let you know that this one is currently out of print. Cats is a book of 30 postcards taken by a variety of photographers and collected into this set by Browntrout Publishers back in 1995 (over a quarter of a century ago!) which I obtained from one of my favorite used bookstores in the Mission District for $3. I’ll also save you the trouble of looking for the publisher’s website because Browntrout has apparently transitioned to mostly making calendars and planners. The only postcards that will be available from them will feature Billie Eilish so if you’re a fan of hers, yay for you?

Anyways, back to Cats. It’s a really great photographic collection of cats in various states of repose. Similar to other postcard books by other publishers, the card stock is slick so you have to be careful writing with pens. Let the ink dry before moving it around too much or it will smear. I  usually send these to people who like cats but don’t have any other interests that I can match with any other postcards I have on hand.

Postcard Set Review #3: World’s Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein

World’s Greatest Bookstores is a 100 postcard set with duplicates of 50 designs. This may flummox some postcard collectors who might want 100 postcards with completely different designs, but as a person who prefers sending out postcards rather than hoarding them, I am perfectly happy with this arrangement. I bought two of these postcard sets and I’ve sent out about 1.5 sets already. While bookstores depicted on the postcards are a bit US-centric, I typically send the ones with a US bookstore to those overseas and send postcards with foreign bookstores to people within the US, so it all evens out.

The cardstock is good–it’s sturdy enough so I don’t have to worry that they would be torn in transit and the texture is absorbent enough for most pens so I don’t have to worry about smearing. I find the artwork to have a dream-like quality which feels like a stark contrast to Bob Eckstein’s cartoons in, say, The New Yorker. I think it’s because brick-and-mortar bookstores are a bit of a dream, especially in these pandemic times when we can only order online. I just hope that when we do get out of this pandemic, we don’t find that all the independent bookstores really have vanished like dreams.