Cancellation Notice

So, I cancelled my New York Times subscription.

I’d subscribed digitally just after Trump was inaugurated, in part because I wanted to support journalism in an era that would need journalism, and also because I knew realistically that I’d want access to more than the 10 articles a month limit you get without a subscription. I wasn’t the biggest Times booster, even though I enjoyed a bunch of writers there (and particularly enjoyed their podcasts, too; The Daily was a must every day for a long time), but it felt important to finally sign up to the Times as an accompaniment to my already present Washington Post subscription.

(I’d been a Post subscriber for longer for two reasons; I prefer that paper’s political coverage by far, and the digital subscription was far, far cheaper. The Times subscription felt overpriced for what I was getting out of it, to be honest.)

I stayed a Times subscriber through multiple concerns about coverage and weakness in both reporting and editorial point of view; sure, my readership of it dropped to almost non-existent outside of the big stories, but I was still supporting journalism, dammit! As a journalist myself, it was a point of principle, even when the journalism being practiced didn’t seem to uphold the principles I would’ve wanted it to. And then the Tom Cotton op-ed ran.

There’s so much about that op-ed and the circumstances of its creation and publication that are, to say the least, troubling, that came out in the days after its publication — that the section editor didn’t read it prior to publishing, that it was pitched to Cotton by the paper, that it didn’t go through fact checks and was subsequently found to fall under the paper’s own journalistic standards — but for me, even just seeing the headline “Send In The Troops” was enough. It was time to cancel.

(The piece was trash, of course, but it was lying, dangerous trash calling for martial law in a public venue that should not, under any circumstances, publish such inflammatory bullshit at a time like now. Days later, I’m still incandescent with anger over how irresponsible the piece was, how drastically the Times failed in not only allowing it to run, but commissioning it in the first place.)

There’s a whole process you have to go through in order to cancel your Times subscription, it turns out; it’s not like you can just click a button. In total, it took me an hour or so, and an online chat with someone called Eric to shut it down. What stands out about the whole thing, though, was Eric’s response when I told him why I was cancelling. He dropped the attempts to keep me by lowering the price or offering additional add-one, and just thanked me for being “an important voice for change.”

When even your sales staff think some things are worth cancelling over, that’s probably a sign you’ve fucked up, surely.

Please Excuse Me While I Hide Away

I’m reminded of that adage about most plans not surviving first contact with the enemy, except that, in this case — as in most, let’s be honest — the enemy in question happens to be reality. So it goes.

Thanks to the suggestion of podcast partner and all-round good egg Jeff Lester, I decided at the start of the year to keep track of what I’ve been reading. He’s been doing this for some time, and I was, if not jealous of his organizational skills, at least curious to see if I could do something similar given (a) how much I read, and (b) how casually (read, “chaotic”) said reading tends to be. If nothing else, I thought, it’ll be an interesting exercise.

Within a week, I’d lost track of the whole thing.

The trick, I realized fairly early, was that I needed to update pretty immediately; trying to reconstruct after a week, going on my digital footprint and a pile of things by my bed wasn’t going to cut it, as much as I still hoped otherwise. If nothing else, that ignored the random comic issues that would accompany me into the bathroom in the middle of the day, or the glance-throughs first thing in the morning or last thing at night that turn into reading binges.

(And that’s ignoring the things I end up reading for work that I always fail to remember, because they are for work; if you knew how many issues of Birds of Prey and related comics I’ve read in the last month…!)

Instead, my list for January is… simultaneously lengthy and threadbare, missing all manner of things that I’ve simply forgotten. Not the finest start to the experiment, but then, January wasn’t the finest start to the year in general. This month, I’ve been better about things (I think), and the picture it’s painting is… pretty much what I’d expected, in terms of how uneven and random my reading has turned out.

I think, in a strange way, that’s a plus. I’m a flighty reader, curious and unable to sit still for too long, and this is definitely reflected in my lists, but that hummingbird nature fits my work, and lets me turn away towards something fun when necessary. If I keep this up, it’ll be interesting to see what trends emerge over the year as a whole.

Hello Hello Hello

Last week, it was the 25th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, something that took me by surprise — the anniversary, I mean, although it’s not as if I’d expected his death when it happened, either. Today is the anniversary of the discovery of his body; I’d never realized there was such a gap between death and discovery before.

As always happens in situations like this, the media was filled with reminiscences of where I was when I heard the news or how important Cobain was to me, to remind those who were there of how young and vital they used to feel, and to educate those who weren’t about who Kurt Cobain was.

I wasn’t really a Nirvana fan, although that was slowly changing when he died. Weirdly, I had a copy of In Utero, even though I didn’t own Nevermind, but beyond “Serve the Servants” and it’s ersatz Beatles riffing, I hadn’t listened that often. Nirvana felt part of the cultural conversation and I was curious, but not a believer, per se.

My main memory of Cobain’s death is, I suspect, a false one. Somehow, I remember myself in my hometown with a copy of the Melody Maker for that week, filled with tributes and memorials, reading through it and feeling a sadness not specifically about Cobain’s death but about not feeling the grief and loss as intently as others. I felt as if I was missing out, excluded from a moment that was momentous and important, purely because I didn’t get the music, or the band, in the “right” way.

Looking back now, I feel like Cobain’s death was in some way an early echo of Elliott Smith’s — that was the death that impacted me, that ripped my heart out and still saddens me deeply to this day. Maybe there’s only one musician whose death feels like a loss in your family for each person, and Cobain was too early for me. Maybe I was never a grunge fan. Or perhaps I was simply an outsider to the outsider genre.

I still read the thinkpieces and op-eds this month. It’s just that they remembered a time I was there for, but never really a part of.

Close Your Eyes

This past weekend finally broke me of my news obsession; it’s taken years — literally, I’ve been like this since the one-two punch of the 2016 US election and the Brexit referendum — but it was another one-two punch that finally put paid to the fire in my eyes for “keeping up to date.”

As soon as news broke that the Mueller Report had been handed into the Department of Justice, I was done. I won’t be cynical and claim that I knew nothing would come of it, because I didn’t; I fully expected obstruction to be identified and a decision to be that a sitting President couldn’t be indicted, I admit. But the breathless rush to “explain” what was utterly unknown for two days, and now only partly unknown, finished me.

(Yes, I think something is hinky about Barr’s summary, too, but I also think something is hinky about a two year investigation ending with, “Eh, I dunno,” and a shrug, essentially. But what does that matter?)

This came after my growing sadness over everything Brexit, which breaks my heart with each new maddening story of a political process riddled with ineptitude, driving an entire country ever closer to utter disaster, so, so slowly. I can’t verbalize what it actually feels like, to be honest; it’s upsetting in a way that feels at once intensely personal and also at a remove, because I’ve not lived in the UK for close to two decades at this point. I just find myself hoping for the best and wanting to look away.

This impulse, this Okay, I’m done for awhile, feels like it’s probably healthy — disconnecting as self-care, just for a short time. I’ll come back, I know I will, but for now, it only seems sensible to look away from a feed that only offers Bad News day after day after day.

Recently Read, Prose (9/17/13)

booksseptI haven’t done one of these in the longest time — blame my increasingly busy work (over-)load — and can’t really remember what I’ve read in the recent months since I last did one. Theoretically, I could simply look up my “Recently Borrowed” list on the libary’s website and make an educated guess, but instead I’ll declare a do-over and just list the books I read this past weekend. Sorry, everything that fell into that four month limbo!

Brian Stelter’s Top of the Morning was a book that I’d been really looking forward to — I like his work on the New York Times’ media beat a lot, and find the whole weird world of American morning television politics both fascinating and funny, so this seemed like the ideal book for me. Sadly, it wasn’t, and it ultimately comes down to Stelter’s writing, which read like it needed a stronger editor — he kept going back to the same tics (especially comparing a big event to a big sporting event, without any context because obviously everyone gets boxing references, right?), and was clearly more comfortable with shorter prose than something as long as this book. It’s not a bad book, but it’s one that could’ve been a lot better with just a little more time spent on refining it.

The Aimee Bender anthology, meanwhile, is as good as you’d expect from her. It’s also… sadder, perhaps? More melancholy? It felt darker, and lonelier, than I am used to, for some reason. Or, perhaps, it could be that there wasn’t the balance of melancholy and wonder that I’ve come to expect from her. Nevertheless, that’s all on me; I loved this collection, as I’ve loved all of her work. Aimee Bender’s awesome, you guys.

That said, maybe she’s not as awesome as Questlove? Mo Meta Blues was a wonderfully fun, wonderfully readable book, a memoir about a life filled with music that is just filled with joy and wonder and makes you want to listen to all the music he mentions (It gave me a serious Prince jones, of all things). I sped through this one, starting it on Saturday evening and finishing it before lunch on Sunday; it was just that enjoyable, that un-put-down-able.

I also read Fade In, Michael Piller’s unpublished-but-available-online memoir about the creation of Star Trek: Insurrection, a movie that I’ve never even seen. It was a curious read, because it’s essentially a tell-all about the way in which a movie can start as one thing, then end up as something entirely different (and arguably not as good) written by someone entirely complicit in all the changes and who isn’t outraged by them. It’s… Sad, but telling, might be the best way to describe it. You can tell that Piller did what he thought was best given the circumstances, but you can also feel his frustration about those circumstances at the same time. Weirdly compelling, even if you’ve never seen the movie like me.

A Kurt Power Novel

Kurt Power was Niles Golan’s signature character, a no-nonsense private eye and ex-lawyer who, on the days when he wasn’t solving cases involving serial killers, consulted for the police and anti-terrorist forces. He was divorced, with a drink problem and – the clever touch Niles was most proud of – an autistic six-year-old daughter, whose unique insights often provided the key to a difficult case.

In The Fictional Man, every now and again, writer Al Ewing will drop in the title of one of his lead character’s novels into the narrative. Here, thanks to the wonders of searchable Kindle books, are the collected Kurt Power works of Niles Golan (that we know of):

Pudding and Pie: A Kurt Power Novel
Down to The Woods Tonight: A Kurt Power Novel
The Saladin Imperative: A Kurt Power Novel
Power of Attorney: A Kurt Power Novel
Murder Force: A Kurt Power Novel
Edge of Doomsday: A Kurt Power Novel
Pocketful of Posies: A Kurt Power Novel
Little Pig, Little Pig, Let Me Come In: A Kurt Power Novel
The Moon Comes Out As Bright As Day: A Kurt Power Novel
Eye of The Scimitar: A Kurt Power Novel
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: A Kurt Power Novel

In a perfect world, there would be garish fan art for these books already.

Recently Read, Prose (5/6/13)

fictionalmanI knew, going in, that I’d like The Fictional Man by Al Ewing; I like him a lot as a comic writer – His Zombo with Henry Flint in 2000AD currently is, without exaggeration, some of my favorite comics in years, smart and funny and self-aware without breaking from the melodramatic “sci-fi adventure” genre that the anthology specializes in – and the central concept, of a man in a world where clones of fictional characters exist, sounded promising. I didn’t know that I’d have such a strong reaction to it.

As I wrote in an email to a friend this morning, it’s not a perfect novel, but in a lot of ways, what frustrated me about it also worked for me in some strange way. It feels too short, and at least two threads feel as if they’re abandoned rather than fully developed, but even in that, I found myself reminded of writers who were once central to my idea of entertainment: Terry Southern (especially his The Magic Christian and Candy), Kurt Vonnegut’s earlier, pulpy and just a little sloppy work.

The central idea is, of course, not a million miles away from something Philip K. Dick would come up with, but the execution is more humanist and optimistic than Dick was capable of, I think (Yet something that still hangs on the idea of personal revelation and everything you know is wrong in some way, too). And outside of prose, I could sense Howard the Duck-era Steve Gerber in there, both in some of the more over-the-top media parody material, but also the humanism and embrace of the outsider and the freak.

There’s a lot to chew on in this book; more than it really lets itself chew on, perhaps – to say more would be to spoil the book, and I really don’t want to, because I want you all to go buy it. But this book left me feeling the same way that Dick, Vonnegut and Southern did, way back when, and for that alone, I’ll always love it.

Recently Read, Prose (4/29/13)


I’m way behind on keeping track on the books I’ve been reading so far this year, but here’re the ones I remember from the last few weeks. Of particular note are Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Life Itself, both of which I finished this weekend; one a wonderful mystery novel by Maria Semple, the other the late Roger Ebert’s memoir, both were filled with such kindness and humanism that it was both overwhelming and utterly charming, renewing my faith in human nature in a way that I didn’t realize I needed.

(Of the other books, both The Story of The Streets and The End of Men were disappointing in their own ways, and the Star Trek novels were entirely enjoyable in the fun Cold War analog way that they’ve created in recent books. Marvel Comics The Untold Story was an accidental re-read, and Moranthology felt weirdly random and made me think about e-book collections of my writing, again. One day. One… day…)

Recently Read, Prose (3/2/13)


Yeah, I’m not quite sure what happened to my reading habits this month; I have the feeling that there are books that I’ve read and entirely forgotten in there, for some reason – I normally read more than this, even with the amount of work/stress and everything that’s been going on [UPDATE: I did, indeed, forget something: Sasha Issenberg’s Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, which was more dry than I’d been looking for]. Admittedly, there’s the book I still haven’t finished yet – Hana Rosin’s wonderful The End of Men – that could kinda/sorta be counted, I guess? Otherwise, though, as you can tell, I’ve been leaning heavily on the “Decompression Pulp” this month – El Sombra by Al Ewing being some kind of genius example of the idea, and a ridiculously fun, intentionally trashy story of one man who has barely escaped certain death out for revenge against, essentially steampunk Nazis; it’s really rather great – and trying out Star Wars novels for the first time ever because the high concept of Scoundrels (Pretty much “Hey, it’s Ocean’s Eleven, but Han Solo is George Clooney!”) is somewhat irresistible (The novel is slightly more resistible, it has to be said; it’s not bad, but it’s also nowhere near as fun as it should be).

Supergods was a re-read for work, but also spun out of reading an ARC of Glen Weldon’s really great Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, which I loved when I read and find myself appreciating even more the more I think about it afterwards. It’s the tone, I think; it’s just so very right for something like this. The End of The Line book was a light read because I was in the mood for some good punchy political writing, which this… isn’t, really. It’s another “almost, but not quite” entry. Basically, I find it difficult to wait for the inevitable “Definitive Book of The 2012 Election” to come along. I mean, we’re due one soon, right…?

Recently Read, Prose (2/4/13)

I keep going back and forth about whether or not to include this book on the list; on the one hand, there’s a chunk of prose in there, but on the other, it’s essentially an art book with commentary. Feel free to make your own decisions, dear reader. I’m also convinced that there’s at least one book that I’ve read in the last month that I’m forgetting, which is just another reminder that I should really make lists of this kind of thing in future.

Nonetheless; you can tell from the Mike Carey books that I’m on the lookout for more light/decompressing reading material. Carey’s “Felix Castor” series of supernatural noir fit the bill – I finished the last two off in three days, all told, they were so easy to get through – but they’re done, now, and I’m off looking for the next thing, whatever that might be. Of the three non-fiction books, Extra Virginity proved to be a particular let down, with the author seeming more interested in establishing his bona fides than actually writing a compelling book, but both Hedy’s Folly and Boss Rove were solid reads. The latter made me want to find out more about the Valerie Plame affair, but I’m shying away from reading the memoirs of anyone actually involved for some reason…