Tournament of Books 2020: Oval

Oval

Dystopias are rarely boring. Dystopias rarely make you think, “meh”, when the characters meet the horrors of their world. Dystopias rarely lack plot, drive, an every calling telos. The world of dystopia may be hedonistic but the characters rarely are: after all, what’s the point of creating that kind of world if your character are too nihilistic, hedonistic and selfish to care what is going on around them?
Elvia Wilk’s “Oval” manages to be all that: a boring, bland, myopic, pointless dystopia full of nihilistic and selfish characters that don the mantle of social awareness and environmentalism as nothing more than a status symbol. I hesitate to call “Oval” a speculative novel, since so little speculation happens in it. Corporations are going to be ever more powerful at the expense of governments? That’s a known truth in 2020. The housing crisis is a thing worldwide? No kidding. Economic disparity, young people despairing from the political system, partying your way to the end – it’s not just that there’s nothing new here, it’s also that Wilk didn’t even try to dress it differently, give it an interesting or thought provoking spin. After reading “Oval” to the end I felt like I felt after watching “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”: was this all that it’s for?
I don’t like feeling cheated as a reader, and “Oval” wears the mantle of a high brow novel while providing less satisfaction, interest and down to earth character moments than works like Corey Doctorow’s wonderful “Radicalized”. Go read that instead.

I read “Oval” as part of the 2020 Tournament of Books, where it’s up in the play-in round against “Golden State” and “We Cast a Shadow”.

Tournament of Books 2020: Oval

Tournament of Books 2020: Golden State

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In a dystopian California, obsessed about the truth and capturing every moment of reality, a detective in the lie-detecting “Speculative Service” encounters an accidental death that may be more than it seems. Ben H. Winters’ “Golden State” is a clever mirror of “1984”, built for our cynical and surveillance heavy world, and it has a lot to say about truth, fiction, human relationships, guilt and objectivity. There’s something very “Caves of Steel” about it, and yet Winters’s characters are actual characters, and not robots-in-flesh as in Asimov’s work. This isn’t just a novel of ideas, but also a novel of people, of Lazlo dealing with pain, guilt, ambition.
A clever speculative novel that is worth reading even if speculative novels aren’t your thing.

I read this as part of the 2020 Tournament of Books Play-In round, where it’s up against “Oval” and “We Cast a Shadow”.

Tournament of Books 2020: Golden State

Moleskine Spring-Summer 2020 Catalog

Moleskine’s Spring-Summer 2020 catalog is finally available online, and as usual, it’s chock full of new products and updates to existing ones. I recommend that you go spelunking in this massive tome (173 pages!), as you’re bound to find something in it that speaks to you. I’m going to try to cover most of the main changes, but this post is far from a comprehensive review of all that Moleskine Spring-Summer catalog has to offer.

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Classic Notebooks Expanded are getting two new colours (their first): Scarlet Red and Sapphire Blue. I’m assuming that this means that they have been a success, although judging by the choice to keep the squared and dotted rulings only in black, some options have likely been more successful than others.

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Classic Notebooks Hardcover get two new seasonal colours (Hydrangea Blue and Lemon Green), as has been Moleskine’s custom in recent years. I’m guessing that Hydrangea Blue is going to be as big a hit as Reef Blue was, but I’m still disappointed to see them limit the new colours to their most popular rulings only: ruled and plain. In other news, the Classic XXL has been discontinued, which isn’t really surprising as the A4 size has largely gone on to replace it. The strange thing is that in the Classic Notebooks Softcover lineup the opposite has happened: the XXL is staying on and the A4 is no longer available. Why? Looking over the rest of the catalog there appears to be a major and bewilderingly inconsistent reshuffling going on in the larger sized Moleskines. Some lines kept the XXL, some kept the A4 (the XXL is smaller than the A4), and I’m guessing that the only thing guiding Moleskine’s decision is which size get purchased more per each line. In any case, if you’re a fan of the larger notebooks I recommend looking over the catalog to make sure that your favourite notebook isn’t getting discontinued. It takes a while for stores to run out of stock, so if you love the Classic XXL for instance, you still have time to stockpile a few while they’re still out there.

On that note I’m still disappointed that the squared reporter notebooks haven’t returned. I was in Porto, Portugal last year and I found a shop that not only had large squared reporter notebooks, but also the Moleskine Van Gogh notebooks that started their whole limited edition lineup, so I filled half my suitcase with those.

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Moleskine is fully embracing its phenomenally good fabric cover skills with the addition of the Blend collection as part of its regular lineup. There are two notebooks on offer, both in new colours (Harringbone Purple and Harringbone Blue), in ruled and dotted (!) options. The Blend covers are some of the best that Moleskine has produced in recent years, but they photograph pretty poorly. These are notebooks to see (and feel) in person, and I have no idea what the colour of the Harringbone Purple really is. Even if you’re not a Moleskine fan I recommend getting one of their fabric covered notebooks (the Two-Go notebooks for instance are also fountain pen friendly and have a cool blank on one side lined on the other side setup), just to see how good fabric covered notebooks can be when done properly.

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Planners are a giant chunk of the catalog, but I’m not going to go over them because that’s where madness lies. I’ll just point out that the 2021 limited edition planners are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peanuts, Little Prince (which were all featured in previous years), and the brand new Maneki-Neko. This is the first glimpse in the catalog of the growing Japanese influences on the Moleksine lineup this year (and over the last year or two), a theme that will repeat itself in the limited edition notebook lineup. Also, this is the first year in a while that hasn’t featured Star Wars planners, although the fall catalog may yet rectify that.

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This brings us to the most interesting part of the catalog for me, the limited edition notebooks. Here is where Moleksine flexes its design prowess, and the results are always unique, and oftentimes stunning. This year they’ve completed their Harry Potter limited edition lineup, with each HP book getting its own notebook design. You’d be shocked to know that these were super popular and so last year’s four notebooks are hard to find at reasonable prices. I expect this year’s three to sell just as quickly.

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That leaves four other limited editions for this year, with only one not having direct Japanese ties:

The Wizard of Oz – These are four large notebooks, two ruled (the green and the red), two plain (the blue and the yellow). They each come with a set of themed stickers, and I love their design. These four and the Sakura are a must buy for me, if I can get my hands on them (thank you, Book Depository, for messing up my Harry Potter pre-order. You’re the best). They feature original artwork from W.W. Denslow and the title of a chapter on the cover, and it looks like they are fabric covered, which is excellent news.

Sakura – this is the second time that Moleskine has come out with Sakura themed notebooks, and the previous round was stunning. I think that this edition is a little plainer, but again, fabric covered notebook in still a lovely design, so I’m probably going to get these, at least in the large size. These come in large and pocket, both ruled and plain, and they include a set of themed stickers.

The Legend of Zelda – in the video game/geeky part of the limited edition notebooks, it’s Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda that gets the Moleskine treatment this time. Again, themed stickers included, but no fabric cover. There is embossing on the cover, and nostalgic, pixalated graphics throughout. This edition also features a numbered (4,999 copies) box, and two large, ruled notebooks. This would have been a great edition for a squared ruling, but Moleskine will be Moleskine, I guess.

One Piece – a manga themed edition of two large notebooks, both ruled, with designs that are really difficult to see properly in the catalog. It comes with a set of themed stickers, and they appear to have gone for wildly different designs with these two notebooks. One appears to have a bold rendering of the Jolly Roger flag, and another is very subtly embossed on a peach cover.

Maneki-Neko – there’s just one notebook here, maybe because the cat of good fortune got its own planner lineup. This appears to be the least imaginative edition of the lot, in the least imaginative ruling (ruled, of course, what else?). There are stickers included here too.

And there’s a fifth limited edition that Moleskine claims is a spring launch, but as I purchased it from a Moleskine store in September, I beg to differ. It is gorgeous though, so I’ll give it a mention anyway:

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I am New York – the city themed limited edition notebooks that Moleskine has been issuing in recent years (and at first were only available in Moleskine stores) are some of their best designed notebooks, and that’s saying something. The graphics on the outer cover, the central park scene on the back endpaper and the new your breakfast on the front endpaper are just perfect. I plan on writing a review of this edition later this year, but I can already say that it’s one of my all time favourites (did I mention that it has a fabric cover?).

Now on to the Pro selection of the catalog:

A4 Pro Notebooks are discontinued, but the new Pro Project Planners range comes with Large, X-Large and A4 size and not the XXL. Again, not sure what the thinking is here. As for the Pro Project Planners themselves, these aren’t planners in the traditional sense of the word, but rather planners that have various productivity bits stuck in (there’s brainstorming, project tracking, structured note taking and to do list sections, as well as labeling stickers, goal pages and more). These are clearly business oriented, which explains Moleskine’s choice to produce them only with black covers.

Others:

The City Notebooks Pocket Box is no longer available. I imagine that it wasn’t popular enough for them to keep stocking it.

There are a few additions to the Smart Writing System notebooks. I don’t plan on buying into the system, so I’m not going to cover it here.

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Discontinued Go Click Ballpens

The Classic Cap Roller Pens and Classic Click Ballpen in white, tide green, and charcoal grey are being discontinued. The Go Click Ballpen in Pattern Cyan, Magenta Green and Yellow are also being discontinued. These are among the best looking Moleskine Go pens, so that’s a real shame. What’s worse is that Moleskine is discontinuing all of its roller gel (and ballpoint) refills. Their gel refill is Parker size and pretty great, so I really wish they would continue producing it. As it is I’m planning to buy one or two to keep around while I still can (they aren’t cheap).

I personally am a bit disappointed in Moleksine’s Spring-Summer lineup this year compared to their previous Fall-Winter one, but that’s just a matter of taste. There are some real lookers here, and the choice of seasonal colours for their notebook lineup (Hydrangea Blue and Lemon Green) is great. There are a lot of options that are getting discontinued, hopefully to be replaced by others in the future, so it’s worth taking some time to make sure that your favourite combo hasn’t been axed. Old stock of discontinued items will stick around for a while, but if there’s something that you really can’t do without and it’s marked as “no longer available” or “while stocks last” then it’s worth stocking up on it while you still can.

 

 

Moleskine Spring-Summer 2020 Catalog

Tournament of Books 2020: Fleishman is in Trouble

Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s “Fleishman is in Trouble” is a readable book. The pages fly by as you absorb them, looking for something, anything, more than superficial, entitled, dull misery. I kept waiting for the promises humour to appear. I kept waiting for the novel to get to even the basic insights in David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” as it dug into the daily grind of its rich, white, healthy, able-bodied, cis-gendered, supremely selfish and childish characters. I kept saying, “so what, who cares?” and the novel didn’t answer. What things it had to say about women’s place had been said much more poignantly by authors with a better story to tell.
There is some attempt at narrative sophistication, but that doesn’t land. Akner chooses to use the second person for parts of the narrative, but she doesn’t commit, doesn’t fully create a witness account. Then there’s an attempt to mirror a fictional narrative within the narrative, a magazine article like telling of a divorce falling apart. Again, Akner pulls her punches, the comparison of “divorce story as written by a man vs. divorce story as written by a woman” doesn’t land. At some point I started hoping that she would pull off a trite move like revealing that she’s gender switched the narrative all along, just so I could have something to look forward to. Toby talks about rich people not knowing how to deal with tragedies or hardship in a novel devoid of any tragedies or hardship, as a character, in a cast, that has never truly dealt with the terrors of the world. The only character that has the potential for some depth, Rachel, is rendered as a selfish, driven, social climber with no empathy to anyone but herself.
The novel, like its characters, is pleasantly whiling the time as the world around it burns and it eats beef lo mein.
I read this book as part of the2020 Tournament of Books, where it’s up against Jami Attenberg’s “All This Could Be Yours” in the first round. Both novels are about rich, white people going through a crisis of sorts, but Attenberg’s novel has a depth to it, the darkness of Victor vs. the light of its post-Katrina New Orlean’s residents, that makes it worth spending some time with.
If you’re looking for a “Sex in the City Post Divorce” type of book, “Fleishman is in Trouble” may be what you’re looking for. Otherwise, I’d avoid it.

Tournament of Books 2020: Fleishman is in Trouble

Karas Kustoms Battleworn Render K Review

In 2016 I purchased my first Karas Kustoms pens, a grey Render K. Brad Dowdy said that the grey Render K is worth checking out, as photos don’t do the pen justice, and he was right. I love that pen and I still use it regularly, despite it having two minuses:

  1. The refill is a ballpoint, which I’m not a fan of.
  2. The cap doesn’t stay on. Ever.

So I relegated my Render K to desk use, and I only used it in my reading journal, where I don’t write as much, so I can usually wait a few minutes for the ink to dry.

The “cap not staying on” bit didn’t bother just me, and Karas decided that it was worth addressing. Their Render K V2 mainly came out to address that problem. When one of the V2 Render Ks in Battleworn finish came on sale on Black Friday, I decided to give it a try. And this time I got the G2 version, which accepts Pilot G-2 refills (my favourite refill, the Uni-ball UMR-85N is G-2 compatible).

This is the olive coloured Battleworn Render K, and though it looks heavy and hefty it’s super light. It’s much lighter than my old Render K, and more well balanced.

The “Battleworn” finish means that the pen was tumbled after anodization, and so it’s full of nicks and has an “old jeans” kind of look to the top of the cap, the threads, and the tip.

You can see the effects of the tumbling most significantly on the grip. The rings on it are pretty well battered and chewed. While it may look rough, the finish is smooth and there’s no risk of cutting your fingers on a raw edge.

The finish on the cap looks great too. The cap has an o-ring inside that makes sure that it stays on unless you unscrew it, and the threads have also been redesigned to make capping more secure. As in the old Render K, you can’t post the cap.

I was prepared to dislike the olive colour, but I like its subtlety. It’s interesting without calling too much attention to itself.

Render K V2 on the left and the original Render K on the right

When you put the new and old Render Ks side by side you can see that they’re practically the same size, that the grip section has been redesigned, and that their threads look different.

The old Render K accepted refills through the top part of the grip, unlike the new Render K, where the entire grip section unscrews. I think that the new design is more streamlined and elegant, and in general the rings on the new grip make the Render K V2’s grip much better designed and less slippery to hold.

The old Render K feels much heavier than the new one, partly because I think that it’s not as well balanced as the Render K V2. However, it’s worth noting that in both Render K versions the grip section is a little on the thin side, so you might not find them well suited for long writing sessions.

The Karas Kustoms Render K V2 is one of the best machined pens in the market, and now that the cap stays on its a great EDC pen. I personally love the look of the “Battleworn” finish, and I highly recommend getting the G2 version of the pen and swapping the Pilot G2 refill with one of the many, better, G2 compatible refills in the market.

Karas Kustoms Battleworn Render K Review

Tournament of Books 2020: All This Could Be Yours

All This Could Be Yours

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina
The Tuchman family is unhappy in its own way, as Jami Attenberg deftly portrays in “All This Could Be Yours“. The patriarch, Victor, is lying on his deathbed, and Attenberg creates a mosaic of family members around him, with each character radiating out to other characters, the narrative touching on them for a moment (a conductor on a streetcar, a bartender, nurses, a coroner) placing them in the city of New Orleans, the world at large, and then floating away. The result is a lyrical telling of the consequences the life of a monster has on the people around him, almost a mirror image of Alberto Luis Urrea’s wonderful and touching “The House of Broken Angels”.
Victor Tuchman is a monster, but we only see his shadow, his effect in “All This Could Be Yours”. Alex’s obsession with knowing the truth about his life, why her mother stayed with him, what he did is what mostly drives the narrative, which is very thin on plot. It is rich with vibrant and interesting characters, the verve and buzz of New Orleans, the tang of misery brought on by people acting as people tend to do.
These are rich white people having rich white people problems in the city of New Orleans, in the America of Trump. I expected to not care less about the Tuchmans and their collective misery (no real tragedy here). But Attenberg knows how to write a book, and she knows what she’s doing even though you might get a little distracted at times along the way. Take a look at what’s described and what’s not, whose childhood is narrated and whose’s not, and on which character doing what the main narrative ends. A cruel man starts the narrative, but kind women have the last word.

I read this as part of my Tournament of Books 2020 challenge, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though the narrative jumps and amount of characters can be confusing at times.

Tournament of Books 2020: All This Could Be Yours

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 25

Diamine Inkvent Calendar is an advent calendar with a tiny (7ml) bottle of ink behind 24 windows, and a larger, 30ml, bottle of ink behind the 25th window. All the inks are limited edition, and only available through this calendar. You can read more about the calendar here.

It’s the final day of the Diamine Inkvent calendar, and there’s a full 30ml bottle of ink behind today’s door. I guessed that today’s ink will probably be a shimmer and sheen ink, perhaps in the same shade of blue of the calendar. Then again, from the ink name there was a chance that it would be a green or a red, which I find less useful.

Turns out that my first guess was right. Day 25’s ink is Diamine Happy Holidays, and it’s a sheen and shimmer rich royal blue, just like the Inkvent calendar. The blue they chose is beautiful, dark but not so dark that it becomes black. It shades well, even though it’s saturated, and has a red sheen and light blue glitter in it.

 

You can see the shading. Where the ink pools there’s sheen, and if you shake the ink well before use (including in the pen) you’ll see a good amount of shimmer. I filled a TWSBI Go 1.1 stub with this ink and on Tomoe river paper this ink shines.

You can see the sheen and shimmer best when you tilt the paper slightly.

Even on Rhodia paper you can see the shimmer and sheen:

Diamine Happy Holidays is a lovely ink, and I’m glad that I now have a 30ml bottle of it. Is it the most unique colour in the calendar? No, it’s pretty close to the other four dark blues. However, looking over all of the other colours in the calendar, I don’t think that they could have selected a better ink for the last day.

I loved almost all of the inks in the Diamine Inkvent calendar (apart from Diamine Triple Chocolate). The calendar itself is a beautiful and well designed objects, the tiny bottles were charming (some of the labels had minor flaking problems, but who cares), and the sheer amount of unique inks produced for this is astounding. I know that Diamine said that these inks were made only for the calendar, but I would be glad to see some of them re-issued in larger bottles. If Diamine issue another calendar next year I will definitely buy it, probably even if it has the exact same ink colours. The Diamine Inkvent calendar is one of the best stationery products of the year, and certainly one of the most entertaining ones.

Diamine Inkvent Calendar Day 25