It’s hard for me to believe it, but we’re almost at the end of 2021. At one time, I thought I would write these reading roundups more regularly. Alas, I had other priorities. Here’s a list of favorites, with occasional annotations. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follet Advent by Fleming Rutledge On the Road with Saint Augustine by James K.A. Smith Reckless graphic novels by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — Some of the page-turning-est crime fiction I’ve ever read, in comic book form!
An update So, as I mentioned in this post, I tried a “digital detox” for about 30 days. Overall, I’d say it was a worthwhile experience, one with some surprising outcomes. A bit of housekeeping regarding this space — I gained a newfound appreciation for simplicity during that time. In that spirit, I decided to import all of my “longform” blog posts here and moved the domain name for robertsapunarich.
From Mary Harrington over at Unherd: We’ve paid steeply to control this virus. The price has not just been in government borrowing but in the tattered warp and weft of our common life. Maybe the price has been worth paying: even under lockdown, a staggering 126,000 UK citizens died within 28 days of a Covid test over the last year. But the cost has been unfathomable as well, both individually and collectively — and it has not been evenly borne.
The strange, new circumstances of 2020 entailed a number of strange, new behaviors — “social distancing”, wearing masks, working from home, “toobin” (for some). I think I uttered the phrase “public health” more in one month than I had in my entire life until March 2020. Suddenly, my blissfully unaware self was inundated with a string of strange, new directives, necessitating strange, new thoughts and behaviors. Of course, the strange, new thing was a little understood, highly contagious virus that was spreading rapidly.
Happy New Year! It feels like it was both so recently and so long ago that I wrote up my list of favorite reads from the first half of 2020. Going forward, I think I’ll write one of these entries quarterly, if only for the fact that it’s easier to summon thoughts about something I read three months ago, rather than six. S.A. Cosby, Blacktop Wasteland —— When I wrote the previous “favorite reads” list, I was in the middle of reading this southern noir and so badly wanted to include it.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve read a number of books that have helped me re-learn about certain aspects of faith that may have been unhelpfully shaped by the evangelical subculture in which I spent a number of my formative years. My own experience seems to parallel that of many of my peers, some of whom would call themselves “ex-vangelical”. That experience has even become a publishing/media trend of its own, with a fixation on “deconstructing” one’s faith and reconstructing it as something new.
This article by Anne Helen Petersen definitely hits home. The erratic dysrhythmia she describes of incessant context switching while attempting to do actual work was eerily similar to what a lot of my sessions writing either code or prose look like. I really feel for people who are in the content-hustle business – constantly needing to react to whatever the hive-mind buzzing about at the moment. For them, actively using social media in all of its most toxic ways is tragically an occupational hazard that is an inevitable part of their jobs.
It’s hard to believe, but Jenoa and I have lived in Virginia for over a year. But it’s even harder to believe that in that time we hadn’t explored Shenandoah National Park until today. Since it was our first visit, we didn’t venture too far into the park and chose to take one of the shorter, mellower hikes, Blackrock Summit. Blackrock Summit has a fascinating history. An informative sign at the trailhead tells visitors how the rocks of Blackrock Summit were once the seabed of the Iapetus Ocean.
Alan Jacobs recently wrote a couple of posts addressing the question of how Christians ought to approach the struggle for racial justice. In the first post, responding to a recent statement made by Baylor’s president regarding the institution’s relationship to race, Jacobs argues that justice is for the work of reconciliation. He writes, > In my judgment, it is the opportunity to receive and extend forgiveness that is the greatest possible inducement to repentance and amendment of life, and — I cannot stress this too strongly — a shared repentance and amendment of life make genuine community possible.
Hard as it may be to believe, we’re well into the second half of 2020. Here are my favorite books I’ve read this year from January to July, with occasionaly commentary. I know July is technically the second half of the year, but… I didn’t think of this idea until July. Dan Simmons, Hyperion Christian Wiman, Survival Is A Style Daniel Warren Johnson, Murder Falcon - My friend Collin bought this for me as a Christmas gift, and it is one of the coolest freaking graphic novels I’ve ever read.
Yesterday Alan Jacobs praised the return of Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish. He noted how it’s part of an emerging trend among journalists to form their own, independent platforms where they’re not beholden to the editorial demands of larger institutions. He also pointed out how directly paying writers for periodical writing quickly introduces a scaling problem for readers - paying five to ten dollars a month per writer quickly adds up. But, Jacobs suggests that putting writing behind paywalls rather than on the open web might be “a feature rather than a bug!
This past week Harper’s magazine posted a letter signed by over 150 academics and artists from across multiple disciplines urging respect for diversity of opinion and open debate, and it garnered quite a bit of negative attention, from multiple political perspectives. I’ve had a number of thoughts about it, and I’ve struggled to put them together in a coherent and thoughtful way (to be honest, I’ve been struggling quite a bit lately to assemble thoughts about almost anything in a coherent way).
So, it’s been a minute. At Jenoa’s advice I resolved not to note the gap between posts, because, you know, I write here primarily for myself, no one’s checking in on me, etc. But I say “it’s been a minute” not so much because of the time between posts as much as what’s occurred in that time. I hesitate to rehash the events of the last few months, but who would have thought that in the midst of a global pandemic we would also see a global reckoning with racial injustice after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement, during an election year in which the incumbent administration is arguably the most absurd and toxic in the nation’s history.
So, as you can imagine, Some Things have happened since the last post. To be honest, it’s been hard to find the will to write. I don’t really want to write about what Warren Ellis calls “The Cough”. But it’s also been unavoidable, and it seems to be on everyone’s mind, and with good reason. But, as Robin Sloan recently wrote, “Do you want every glorious weirdo you’ve ever followed to morph into the same obsessive faux public health expert?
I’m struggling to conjure some thoughts to share here today. The past couple of weeks feel like a bit of a blur. Jen’s in Texas this weekend, where I’ll be joining her this Wednesday. In the spirit of owning, rather than “renting” my music collection, I’m spending this morning importing CDs to my laptop and rebuilding my digital music collection. As I write this, I’m listening to “Sun Forest”, from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’s most recent album, Ghosteen.
I think I’ve more or less given up on the “weekly” commitment to posting here, though I’ll still try to maintain some consistency. This blog is meant to be fun, not a chore, and that’s all I have to say about the matter. I recently took up skateboarding again. The last time I skated was probably 6-7 years ago, and probably another 5-6 years before that since I had skated with any regularity.
So I’ve really breached the “blog every week” commitment I made to myself. Two full weekends in a row and the cognitive load of the new job more than account for this, so I won’t belabor the point any longer. Both the technical work and the actual business domain of my new role are much more technically rigorous than anything I’ve done before. My old manager was fond of quoting Gene Kranz in Apollo 13: “Let’s work the problem people.
Week 2 of the new position was a success, I’d say. Feeling more productive and contributing to the team’s efforts. Coming from the Ruby/Rails world, I’ve had to make a lot of major adjustments, especially working with Go. You write a lot more boilerplate code when working without a framework, and that’s doubly true when working with a small, statically typed, compiled language like Go. I definitely experienced some frustration when trying to cast a request body of unstructured JSON into a map, but it’s forced me to think more reflectively about what the computer actually does with the code I write.
This is my first post since starting my new gig. I’ve learned a lot this week, and have much more to learn. Suffice it to say, I’m really excited to be working where am I, and I’m both exhausted and energized. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this excited about programming and technology. I’ve also been fortunate to see some friends this week. On Friday, Jen and I serendipitously ran into some friends at Champion brewing, then saw some more at Lampo Pizza, and Saturday evening we had some other friends over for a delightful evening of dinner and conversation.
And it’s the first update of 2020. I hope you had pleasant and safe New Year celebration. Jen and I were fortunate to have a few friends over and play some Jackbox games before watching the ball drop at midnight. When we lived in California, we could just watch the ball drop live in Times Square three hours ahead, and be in bed by 9:30. This was the first proper NYE party we were apart of in a few years (I believe the last one we attended was NYE 2016).
I spent the majority of last week traveling for the Christmas holiday and for mine and Jen’s birthdays. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my Grandpa and some extended family in Connecticut. On the 26th (my birthday), we drove to New Jersey, dropped my car at a relative’s house, and took the train into Manhattan. We visited the Morgan Library & Museum, shopped at The Strand bookstore, and ate dinner at Cafe Altro Paradiso followed by drinks at King.
Four entries in and I broke the weekly rhythm, hence the title change to “update”. Oh well. To be fair, last week was spent traveling to California for my W+R Studios’ year-end meetings/holiday party. I flew in on Tuesday the 10th. Meetings and work related events lasted until the morning of Friday the 13th. I got to spend the rest of Friday and all of Saturday seeing friends and catching up on Watchmen.
So I’m a day late on this one, but I did publish a thing yesterday, that the good people at Mbird will also be publishing on their space sometime early next week. This week has mostly been focused on buttoning up minor things at work before next week’s trip to California for year end meetings. I’m also staying a couple extra nights to see some friends. J. and I spent much of today making some much needed furniture purchases.
As a relative newcomer to the Anglican tradition, Advent’s significance as a season, while not totally unfamiliar, has been welcome and refreshing. I also deeply appreciate a phrase I read in various places that seems popular in Anglican circles: “All may, some should, none must”. It’s a principle that, at first glance, seems to respect individual conscience and, dare I say, the diversity of Christian experience. That said, it’s also been strange to see the contentiousness that the faithful sometimes bring to this season.
This is the first entry that’s testing the fortitude of my commitment to regularly publishing here. It’s been a hectic week — good, but hectic. Much to process, and much of it to be thankful for. Time spent with family. A caring church. New opportunities. Lots of food. These entries have so far leaned heavily on diary entries and synthesized them, but the demands on my time and will this past week have left me with 0 entries to glean from, so this’ll be a shorter one.