CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

I first came across George Saunders in a New York Times piece on his new novel, and due to its high praise, I proposed his first book, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996), to my book club a few months ago. I read it in two days, and even though many of the stories are a bit repetitive in theme and content, on the whole I thought it was worth a read. It’s taken me a while to put my thoughts together but here they are.

Continue reading

Orphans of the Storm

I’ll admit that I’m not as into silent films as I should be. Since I started tracking films, only around 2% of the films I’ve seen have been silent. However much it damages my cinephile credentials, I will admit that I find the majority of silent films boring and a bit of a struggle, so for years I put off watching D.W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1921). This was a mistake. With the possible exception of King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928), this is the best silent film I’ve seen, one of the most relevant to the present day, and yet also one that seems to be relatively unknown (having around a fifth of the votes on IMDb that Birth of a Nation has at the time of this writing). Continue reading

WordPress from Vim

I’ve made a few tweaks to Vim which make it simple to blog to a WordPress blog (like this one). Originally I was using VimRepress but I had a few issues with it. I then discovered blogit.vim which just seems to work better for me. I didn’t like the massively long lines, so I had a look and found DistractFree for Vim which helps eliminate distractions, and also puts margins around your text so that the lines aren’t ridiculously long when Vim is maximized. Here’s what it looks like:

Blogit allows you to edit WordPress posts, and DistractFree lets you limit the length of the lines.

I’ve written some notes on how I set this up. Continue reading

The Untouchable

This week I finished John Banville’s The Untouchable, a moving chronicle of longing, reminiscence, and sadness. It is a book about memory and about the act of remembering, too personal to really be called a history, despite the fact that it’s based on real people and events. Memory for Banville is much sadder than it is for that most famous of literary recollectors, Marcel Proust, and not just because the concerns of The Untouchable are much graver than the frivolous happenstance of Remembrance of Things Past. Rather, it is because the act of remembering itself is a tragedy, a dirge for time irrevocably lost. From the title of Proust’s work, À la recherche du temps perdu, or In Search of Lost Time, one might expect the loss of time to be of primary concern. But in fact the emphasis is on the search, an inherently hopeful act: Continue reading

Boudu Saved from Drowning

According to Wikipedia, Pauline Kael called Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932) “not only a lovely fable about a bourgeois attempt to reform an early hippy…but a photographic record of an earlier France.” Although it is an enjoyable film with strong performances, I found it to be more problematic than Kael did. Continue reading


Lately I’ve gotten very addicted (in a good way) to Beeminder. It’s a site that allows you to set quantifiable goals, then it tracks your progress on them. If you fall behind on your goal (called “de-railing” in Beeminder parlance), then you can pledge money to stay on track. If you de-rail again, the money you pledged goes to the lovely people at Beeminder to keep the site running, and you can optionally re-commit and pledge a higher amount to try to stay on track the next time.

Both the goal-tracking features and the potential loss of money are highly motivating. You’re allowed seven free goals before you have to start pledging (which seems to be more than most Beeminders track anyway). As I said, I’m a bit addicted, so I’m currently tracking twenty-seven goals. I have a total of $110 pledged, but since May when I discovered Beeminder, I have not paid on a single pledge, because the site has been sufficiently motivating that I have stuck to my goals so far. I did, however, choose to pay for the completely optional “premium” account for a year, because I wanted to support the site even though I’m meeting my goals. If you stay on track with any number of goals, the service is completely free. If you want to track more than seven goals, you do have to pledge money for them, but again, if you stay on track you will never be charged.

If this sort of motivation appeals to you, you may be interested in some of the things I’m tracking. Some are obvious and even built into the site, but others less obvious, since you can track literally anything that’s quantifiable. In the interest of keeping it interesting, I’ll show my progress on most of the goals I discuss. Continue reading

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

Because the only Pasolini film I had previously seen was the harrowing Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), I began The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1963) with some trepidation. I expected it to be dark, visceral, and transgressive. It turns out to be a refreshingly straightforward adaptation of the book of Matthew, with none of the horrors of Salo, his final film. Continue reading

The Place Beyond the Pines

I had heard The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) compared favourably to Derek Cianfrance’s earlier film Blue Valentine (2010). I thought the latter was quite good when I saw it last year, so I wondered whether his new effort would measure up. I was especially dubious as the trailer looked like a (stunt) vehicle for capitalizing on Gosling’s success in Drive (2011). But the positive reviews were from sources I trusted, and they were right: The Place Beyond the Pines is better.

Continue reading

High Noon

I found High Noon (1952) a bit tedious. Despite its famous title I actually knew very little about it before watching it, so it’s not a case of overly high expectations. I got a bit more excited during the credits as it has a great cast (Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Lee Van Cleef) but unfortunately the acting is lackluster and it’s not a great film. Continue reading


Cooked is the first Michael Pollan book I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. Loosely, it’s a history of cooking through Pollan’s personal experience of learning to cook. Alongside this journey he develops theories about how cooking fits into human evolution, and what it means that modern humans are spending an ever-diminishing amount of time in the kitchen. Continue reading