Cupboard, Cake and Cranks

No Complaints #172

My desk is in a cupboard, and I like it that way. I can shut myself with just a lamp on and write knowing that nobody else can see what I’m putting on the page. I’m in there right now, in case you were wondering. This is how I wrote most of my first book, and all the time I was in here doing it I never gave any thought to what happens once you finish writing and open the door again. But that time has now arrived — the book is out in less than a month (pre-order it, do, if you’ve ever enjoyed any of these emails I send).

So, I have to get out of the cupboard and tell people about it. This isn’t something I’ve ever done before and all the uncertainty and newness is making me want to write things again, real things, that aren’t part of my job but just things I have to say. So, I’ve made a little place where I’ll do that — if you’d like to see some pictures and words related to the book, and other things, then register your interest here. If not, no worries, keep scrolling for today’s links.

Things to read

“To me, crispy gone soggy (CGS) foods hold an appeal that transcends the technical—there is something grander, more existential, almost spiritual at play. To experience CGS is to experience process, to access a magical, ephemeral space between here and there, past and present, crispy and soggy. There is a beautiful tension that exists in this liminal space, one that reflects our own ecstatic human in between-ness—to have been born and know that we will die. To experience CGS is to come face to face with our own mortality and the way that we conduct ourselves in that context.”
On the necessity of having a favourite texture of food.

“Let's look at the numbers, shall we? The author has written 179 books, which have been translated into 43 languages. Twenty-two of them have been adapted for television, and two of those adaptations have received Golden Globe nominations. Steel releases seven new novels a year—her latest, Blessing in Disguise, is out this week—and she's at work on five to six new titles at all times. In 1989 Steel was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having a book on the New York Times best-seller list for the most consecutive weeks of any author—381, to be exact. To pull it off, she works 20 to 22 hours a day. (A few times a month, when she feels the crunch, she spends a full 24 hours at her desk.)”
Howwww are you doing this, Danielle Steel?? Is this real?

“If people come over, I always offer to laminate something of theirs. I say: ‘give me something from your wallet, let me laminate it for you.’ . . . When I want to jazz up a meal, I’ll get out my Norpro hand-crank bean Frencher. . . My small box of small hats says small hats on it. I also have two boxes filled with googly eyes: one fancy, one not.”
Amy Sedaris and her must-have shopping list are both so pleasingly weird.

“Something that often gets left out of the diversity debate is age. The age at which singers’ voices are in their prime doesn’t necessarily coincide with when the singers are at their peak-castability. A combination of “aesthetic considerations” and economics (young, less-experienced singers are cheaper) means a lot of singers, particularly women, in their 40s struggle to find work, even though they’re singing better than ever.”
An opera singer on how looks influence her industry, especially for women.

Which is not to say that a diet of fresh foods, plenty of water, and eight hours of sleep every night don’t affect how your skin looks; studies have demonstrated links between all three and physical appearance, and they’ll help most people achieve the modest goal of looking totally fine. Unless you’re very young and even more genetically gifted, though, self-denial won’t get the results it promises.
The one fail-safe hack to get better skin is to be really, really rich.

Things to listen to

I am completely obsessed with the Bon Appetit YouTube channel; yes, I do like cooking, but mostly I consume it like I would a sitcom, enjoying the relationships and interactions between the different chefs. It follows therefore, that I would also be really into the Bon Appetit Foodcast, a podcast which is more of my favourite sitcom but just in audio form. Start with this one about carrot cake.

+Oh, also, don’t forget I now have a newsletter where you get three great podcast recommendations every day. Use this link to get it free for a month.

Things to watch

See empires vanish.

I haven’t even seen this film and I cried.

This really tasty.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Gone fishin’.

The guest gif

Me, always.

Hacking, Husbands and Heroes

No Complaints #171

A day late! But still here! I am trying to be better about doing this consistently, I promise. And if you ever miss me, don’t forget I now do a daily newsletter that you can sign up for here.

Things to read

“My friends reminded me to practice self-care, a well-meaning comment that I found unintelligible. Getting a manicure or a massage wouldn’t fix this. Nothing would fix this. And even if I had wanted to indulge, I was worried about how my behavior might be perceived. I had quickly discovered that a woman whose husband is objectively Not Okay is likely to be ignored, picked apart, blamed, and have her sanity questioned — especially if she is a black woman and her husband is a white man. So whenever the topic of self-care came up, I’d say something that would get them off my back, and then I’d get back to work.”
A great piece of writing about a terrible time. Email to Pocket.

“The substance of the blogs — guidance on motherhood and domesticity — is often so thinly reconstituted that it’s basically motherhood tips from a content farm. Rather than writing about their own personal experiences or expertise, the mothers producing it seem to be following a set of conventions that they learn in the online blogging courses they buy. The result is a uniformity of tone and content that fails to conjure anything real. It’s a simulation of motherhood engineered to earn a bit of income for mothers.”
Insight on the weirdly bland world of mommy blogging. (Everything is an MLM, don’t @ me.) Email to Pocket.

“Some argue that removing the app leaves women with even fewer options. The digital age has in fact allowed more women to escape oppression in Saudi Arabia. Previously, women needed the physical presence of their male guardians to travel, and some argue that Absher at least gives them an option of hacking their way out of the control of their male guardians.”
In case you needed reminding that the world is unutterably grim, in Saudi Arabia there is an “Uber but for women’s oppression” app. Email to Pocket.

“I don’t know what it means to have your body represented on screen in a way that isn’t somehow tied to magic. If the disabled body isn’t evil or mistaken (the hairy Beast, the green skin of the Wicked Witch, the disfigured face of Red Skull), it is always redeemed in the end—either through actual magic, like when the Maiden Without Hands has her hands grow back in the tale from the Brothers Grimm, or through the magic of the compensation theory of disability, which is what happens a lot with our superheroes.”
On superheroes and the portrayal of disability. Email to Pocket.

“The pizza delivery car pulls up outside. It’s right on time and so, so hot. The delivery guy hands it over with an appropriate smile and says, ‘Enjoy, I hope you’re not sharing it with anyone if you don’t want, I believe everyone is in control of their own bodies and should never be shamed for what they decide to eat or not eat.’ He makes no effort to come inside because that would be weird and alarming. I smile and give him a reasonable tip for his normal behavior as I shut the door. Time for The Crown.”
The real erotica that all women really want. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I’m obsessed with this audio time travel project. It’s just so beautiful and surprising.

I’ve also done something things where you can listen to me talk recently: I was on the BBC’s Podcast Radio Hour this week and on The Allusionist podcast talking about detective fiction and pseudonyms. You can also here more of the latter on my own podcast, Shedunnit.

Oh, and I now have that daily podcast newsletter you should sign up for.

Things to watch

I am afraid I haven’t watched anything this week other than old episodes of Gilmore Girls! So . . . you should do that. Start at the beginning.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

When you read a mean comment on the internet.

The guest gif

Me, receiving an unreasonable email.

Frida, Food and Fear

No Complaints #170

Two things I need to tell you before we get to the links today.

  1. I’m starting a new DAILY (that’s right Caroline, you have to do it every day) podcast recommendation newsletter called The Listener on Monday 15 April. Three great podcast episodes in your inbox and your feed, every single day. If you’ve ever enjoyed a podcast I’ve put in No Complaints and thought ‘I’d never have found this myself’, this will be like that except more so. It costs $5 a month, but I have a special link here that will give you a month for free. It’s first come first served though and there is a limited number of these trials so get clicking if you want one.

  2. We’re having a little meetup/gathering/drinks to celebrate the launch of The Listener, 6-8pm at Drink, Shop & Do by Kings Cross Station in London. If you are free and want to say hi, do come along. Totally free, you can just turn up, but if you have any questions about access etc hit up Hopefully see some of you there!

Right, back to the usual stuff.

Things to read

“The discovery was a shock. But for Aaron, the human remains sunk below a layer of concrete in his boyhood home snapped the jumbled pieces of a family mystery into place. In January 1993, his mother, Bonnie Haim, had vanished. Police suspected her husband, Aaron’s father, Michael Haim, of killing his wife. Those suspicions started with what Aaron, who was then 3, had told authorities.”
Honestly, the wildest true crime story you’ll ever read. Email to Pocket.

“Dorsey’s comments didn’t raise a flag for me. They looked like the front of the United Nations building. But it’s easy for Dorsey, a man who’s hacking his own biology, to say these things and be defended online. I’m frustrated that I’ve been conditioned to raise an eyebrow when a powerful woman like Jenna Lyons says she only eats two tomato soups for lunch each day — but that when a powerful man, Dorsey, describes eating habits that have clear potential for real health damage, people will rabidly defend him.”
At what point does tech bro biohacking become just another potentially harmful personal habit? Email to Pocket.

“But here’s the most surprising thing about all these spreadsheets: They’re enjoyable. You could use productivity apps to track your habits, but they’re not as endlessly customizable, creative, or purposeful as spreadsheets. It’s fun to puzzle out the best way to organize them and maximize the amount of information you can include without making them unwieldy. And it’s a joy to see them fill up and show off all the books you’ve read this year or how much you’ve exercised.”
Finally, I feel validated for my extreme spreadsheet addiction. Email to Pocket.

“The popularity of these graphic accounts runs contrary to Instagram’s reputation as full of only the glossiest fare, from cosmetics to the cosmetically-enhanced. They’re memorable, if nothing else, and often mesmerizing; I had a nightmare that featured the black ooze in a @crimescenecleanersinc post about a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Revulsion, it seems, can win just as many followers as beauty and fame.”
Unlikely Instagram influencers alert: crime scene clean up experts. People really love looking at pictures of decomposing bodies, apparently. Email to Pocket.

“I do, however, very much enjoy the non-spam correspondence. An email is a glimpse into another life, a fragment of a story. Maybe I love getting other people’s mail because I am a fiction writer. Maybe I’m a fiction writer because I love getting other people’s mail. Chicken or egg, I do not know. All I know is it gives me a little rush. I read my misdirected correspondence carefully. I read it nosily. I read it with a little voyeuristic thrill and odd surprising pangs of envy. Rationally I know that to share a name with someone is a simple, random thing. Irrationally I can’t help but feel connected to the other Rachel Lyons of the world.”
I loved this piece about the little secrets we know about our internet doppelgangers (not least because I have someone who I think of as “the Other Caroline Crampton” who has been mistakenly telling people my email address is hers for years; I know how much her house sold for, for instance, and how her children are getting on in school). Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

Jonathan Zenti’s Meat. Susan Calman’s sadness. Samin Nosrat’s fears.

Don’t forget, great podcast recommendations like this every day if you get on this link fast enough.

Things to watch

Yes, Frida.

I should probably try this.

I would watch a romcom about the two lead vocalists here.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Gone fishing.

The guest gif

Keep smiling.

Budgets, Blood and a Bakery

No Complaints #169

It’s been a while. In fact, it’s been the longest period of time I’ve gone without doing this since I started this newsletter, way back in 2014. But: I am back and I’m doing this again properly, I’m promise. If you’re new here, this is really just your old-fashioned brain/links dump, set out in section for your perusal. I hope you find something you like.

Things to read

“As I leave T-Mobile, I send my husband, Trevor, a text; his is the only number I have memorized, and the new phone doesn’t have my contacts. ‘Hello from my new phone’ is exhausting to compose, and I have to stand still while I write the message. I can’t believe people actually wanted to text rather than call when texting was this hard to do. Trevor doesn’t text me back. Rude. I try to explore the phone while walking home, but it’s so hard to do without a touch screen that I almost turn my ankle twice on the sidewalk before I give up.”
What life without Apple is like. Email to Pocket.

“Mormon transhumanism takes those theories and molds them onto a religious framework, where technology and science are tools to further the work of Jesus Christ. There are straightforward applications, like using cybernetic limbs to help injured and disabled people to walk or laser cataract procedures to help people with low vision to see. But scratch the surface, and you’ll find that Mormon transhumanists believe that science can bring about the ‘realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end.’ They believe the coming leaps in science and technology will help us realize the Mormon promise of achieving perfect, immortal bodies and becoming Gods.”
I mean, I feel like this is the logical endpoint of most religions somehow. Good luck to them. Email to Pocket.

“What better way to punctuate than to have a slap. I was talking to an elderly lady about it on an interview, and she goes, ‘What’s going on with those slaps? They’re so sore looking!’ A slap is like a full stop, isn’t it? The way a slap is like a whip pan as well, if you imagine that slap makes the camera move the way it does. It helps for a lot of purposes. It’s an expression, it’s a violent move, it’s comedic, and it is snappy. There are lots of things to come out of that violence, whatever it may be, but Yorgos really does like a slap.”
Nope, I’m still not over The Favourite. Email to Pocket.

“At first, confronting the sheer quantity of the research was ‘totally terrifying’. Then, she told me, ‘I literally just wrote down on eight-and-a-half-by-eleven sheets of paper all of the pieces of the stories in the book.’ She took the pieces of paper and laid them out in a provisional structure that was 60 pages long. Then, she started writing. But it no longer felt like leaping into the unknown. It was like ‘a set of discrete tasks to cross off.’ It felt like when she had worked at a bakery, an experience frequently mentioned in The Recovering, and she had to ice squirrel cookie after squirrel cookie, put the tray in the oven, move on to the next batch. The middle of any longform project, I believe, becomes a struggle not so much of creative vision but of task fulfillment, doggedly keeping on even though it feels rote and impossible to make out what’s behind or ahead.”
As someone who wrote a book last year that involved a lot of research (you can pre-order it here), I endorse this: you might like to think it’s all about the fountain of your magical creativity, but really it’s just about forcing yourself to put one word in front of another until you have a hundred thousand of them in an order that you don’t completely hate. Email to Pocket.

“Fractenberg argued that a professional photographer can provide a fuller picture of a story in all its complexity by intentionally ‘layering’ elements rather than just snapping stills of one figure devoid of context. In other words, they use their ingrained skills and eye as photojournalists to create more critical, more enduring work. There’s a world of difference between a one-off photo attached to a tweet and a lifelong practice of image-making. Yet that very expertise might be a luxury for struggling publications. Budgets are shrinking everywhere even as the frenetic news cycle demands more content faster than ever.”
What happens to photojournalism as a profession now that everyone has an amazing camera in their pocket? Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

I just got through ABC’s The Dropout, all about Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos scandal, in about two days.

Also, do listen to my podcast, Shedunnit. I’ve done quite a few more episodes since I last sent one of these letters.

Things to watch

This makes a lot of sense.

Into it.

I mean, yes.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

He’s on fire.

The guest gif

It’s going to be ok.

Books, Bamboo and Big Ben

No Complaints #168

We had snow this week! My dog enjoyed eating it.

Things to read

“Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, for example, was not heralded as the gospel of modern philosophy it is considered now when the work was first published in the 1780s. In fact, Kant’s philosophical colleagues at the time complained about his impenetrable writing. Johann Shultz, professor of mathematics in Königsberg, wrote that Critique, ‘is even for the greatest part of the academic community just as much as if it were composed exclusively of hieroglyphics.’ He’s got a point.”
Sometimes, even famous people deserve rejection. Email to Pocket.

“‘Happiness,’ Cadfael thinks as he floats on the River Severn, ‘consists in small things, not in great. It is the small things we remember, when time and mortality close in.’ Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael series is one of those small, good things. You’d be remiss not to give it a place in your reading life.”
I could not agree more. Email to Pocket.

“In any hypothetical chart of the most popular presets ever, sounds from synthesiser company E-MU Systems would be up there. The excellent website Who Sampled Who notes that sounds from E-Mu’s 1984 wind-chimes birds and streams (loop garden) presets appear on a whopping 98 pop songs. That pesky chirping bird in 808 State’s 1989 acid house-era smash Pacific State is from this preset, as is the keyboard sound in Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda, 25 years later.”
Preset loops are everywhere in music — you’ll recognise all of these. Email to Pocket.

“While you’re coming to terms with the prospect of damaging lives, consider, also, your own motives. Vindictiveness is not a great place to be writing from; are you motivated by the drive to write a great book, or a wish to punish someone or absolve yourself from blame? There’s a danger that in score-settling, you’ll just write a bad book, lacking empathy and imagination. (I think of the first sentence of the author biography in the Penguin Classics editions of Turgenev’s fiction: Turgenev was born in 1818, in the Province of Orel, and suffered in his childhood from a tyrannical mother. Perhaps he did — I don’t know who wrote the bio — but I wonder what his mother would have said.) Before you Burn Those Bridges, I strongly suggest you get multiple opinions from uninvolved parties on whether or not publication is advisable. Don’t just tell these people about the piece — let them read it, in full.”
Interesting thoughts on how to manage the ethical implications of writing about other people’s stories. Email to Pocket.

“The final product was the result of years of tinkering. Freeman visited correctional food shows and ingredient shows and met with four different manufacturers to share his vision. He mixed spices together over and over again in his kitchen before finally arriving at the right combination for his seafood gumbo ramen. ‘It was like when Frankenstein woke up and he went, “It’s alive,” that’s just how I felt,’ he said.”
This man is on a mission to make sure incarcerated people eat better ramen. Email to Pocket.

Things to listen to

10 Things That Scare Me is a great, short podcast. Start with Samin Nosrat’s episode.

+ I was on a podcast this week talking about why The Remains of the Day is the best film ever. Don’t @ me.

Things to watch

Such ye olde newsreel joy.

This woman beat the chimes of Big Ben in a race! Read all about her here.

I no longer watch the news, I just watch clips from The Day Today and everything makes a lot more sense now.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Under his eye.

The guest gif

See ya.

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