Introducing Collected Miscellany (substack version)

He may be a genius at canasta


Welcome to the inaugural missive from Collected Miscellany substack! As I am wont to do, I’m chasing yet another fad process/platform for communication in the internet of things. [So if you signed up for me email (which lasted all of two posts) then I added you here. If if doesn’t seem like a thing you want to get in your inbox feel free to unsubscribe. If it does, please feel free to share.]

The experiment here is to see if I develop/build/find a community of people who are interested in bits of wisdom, humor and good writing from around the interwebs. I often have an itch to share such things and I feel like my book review blog is pinning for the fjords and substack is the new blogging so…

So… if you stick with me, I will send you links, quotes & musings about books, culture, ideas and interesting people; aka Collected Miscellany. What does that really mean? Who knows, but this first email should give you an idea of the flavor of what is to follow.

Words I Like

Not surprisingly perhaps, given my admitted longtime fandom, allow me to start with Jonah Goldberg. To be fair, this is not really a nugget of wisdom but rather I paragraph that I found humorous this morning and genius in a particularly Goldbergian way. For the near future my favorite caveat when questioning someone’s level of knowledge is going to be: “He may be a genius at canasta.”

Jonah in his must-read G-File (Wednesday edition):

Look, I don’t know jack about this guy beyond what I just told you. He may be a genius at canasta. He could be a hair’s breadth from completing his cold fusion reactor in his garage. For all I know, he may be the only person in the world who has Kobayashi Maru-ed 12-minute brownies by baking them in only seven minutes. But when it comes to politics, this guy is a moron; the “back to work” candidate isn’t willing to put any work at all into figuring out what he’s doing.

Books & Ideas

Historians as slaves to fashion?

More seriously, I recently stumbled upon Tanner Greer, and found his essays intellectually stimulating and thought provoking. I may write more later about his thoughts on the New Right but I want to bring to your attention his essay on something else close to my heart, history (I have an MA myself), Using Alan Taylor’s American Republics as a starting point, or rather a podcast on the book, he has a great post on historians which I found fascinating not only for its summary of recent books on American History but for his musings on the role of historians:

Below Clio’s ever changing face lies the less sexy, but perhaps more serious, side of the historian’s craft. This is history as the slow accumulation of facts, connections, and observations. A historian writes with full knowledge that the story she weaves will be overturned by the next generation of writers. Her only compensation is the knowledge that the research beneath her story will persist for generations. History’s outward dress may change with fashion, but beneath that lies something fuller and deeper, a foundation that only strengthens with the passing seasons. It is for this cause historians give their lives to Clio’s service–and resign themselves to the fashions of their day.

As they used to say in my old blogging days, read the whole thing.

Reviews of Books I Want to Read

Over at The University Bookman, Henry George has a review of Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America by Alec MacGillis. The review reinforced my desire to read it (even if I am not sure I share the reviewer’s opinions on the impact on conservatism in America). Here is how George describes the book:

MacGillis builds his argument around the contrast between the old industrial economic dispensation of place with the new digital economics of placelessness. As a way into the new dispensation, MacGillis surveys the new landscape through the behemoth that embodies the new economy more than any other: Amazon. His style is journalistic and well crafted. What would otherwise be an impersonal tale is made poignant, even tragic, by the personal stories MacGillis relates even as he maintains emotional detachment. These range from Teresa Gandara and Sandy Grodin, office supply entrepreneurs in Texas; to Todd Swallows, a youngish Dayton man always with $0 to his name; to Taylor Sappington, an Ohio city auditor; or Bo Bodani, a retired Baltimore steelworker going back to work. These lives are caught up in the new world we’ve seen grow over the last twenty years, and they are all tied into Amazon’s reshaping of the economy.

Bo Burnham and John Betjeman?

I will leave you with a link to one of my favorite authors, and I suppose you would call him a blogger as well, Alan Jacobs. Both of my children were raving and talking about Bo Burnham’s Netflix special Inside which left me feeling old and out of touch (which describes alomst everything these days alas). I was happy, however, to find that Jacobs had written about the special in a way that made me feel a little bit better about it. He manages to connect Burnham with C.S. Lewis and John Betjeman.

Nominally, the special––filmed by Burnham, alone, in one room––is about the peculiarities and pains of lockdown life, but that’s just the presenting issue. What Burnham, who not long ago was no more than a childishly clever YouTuber, demonstrates in this show––demonstrates incisively, worryingly, crudely, and hilariously––is the varying ways that the lockdown simply revealed to us the condition we were already in: Atoms in the lonely crowd, engaged in the endless labor of online performative self-making.

So yes, still depressing, but in a way that allows to me to wrestle with it intellectually rather than just worry that my kids are exposed to too much crude content. Or I could be fooling myself…


That is all for now. Please let me know if you enjoy this sort of thing or not.