Dispatches: Roundup

Monday morning after the French Open final (if you are a fan of that quirky little niche sport, tennis), the beginning of summer.  It’s somehow a day for cleaning up and rounding things up, an errand kind of day.  You feel that, right?

So I thought I’d do my version of a post Robin “The Omnivore” Varghese did a few weeks back, in which he picked the blogs he reads most often, or which he likes the best, or something like that.  I think I can’t remember which because those two things are linked–interpenetrated as William Carlos Williams or a young dialectician might say.  That is, the blogs you read the most are the best ones, because by definition, blogs are about complusive readability. I know the relation between usefulness and value is suspect to lot of people, but they are basically fascists.  As a good pragmatist, I think usefulness is a useful (turtles all the way!) way to gauge value.  And since blogs have come to occupy an avocational kind of space, to serve as a distraction or to be about by definition what one doesn’t really do, here are some blogs that I have realized I check up on often enough to make them good.

PS Feel free to append your own lists in the comments: only, leave us out of it, for Dawkins’ sake, cause we already know this is your favorite one (or don’t want to know it isn’t).

In no particular order:

Chocolate and Zucchini: Clotilde Dusoulier is a French home cook living in Paris who details her inventions in clear and friendly prose on this extremely popular food blog.  What I like about it (and it certainly isn’t the graphic design) is that Dusoulier (I want to call her Clotilde) is just the kind of cook I like best: she doesn’t go bananas with innovation or a showy desire to impress.  Her nettle soup, for instance, is basically nettles blended in water, and it shows off the interesting ingredient at the cost of the chef’s own desire to preen: luckily, this chef doesn’t.  Her creations have the kind of unshowy authenticity that comes from the hand of the true lover of food. The site is organized into useful categories, and in addition to all the recipes, there’s a ton of good, if not especially esoteric, information about Parisian restaurants and markets.  Food treated with the respect it deserves, without the obsessive-compulsive disorder it doesn’t.

Todd and in Charge
: This compendium of its author’s favorites is how I like to keep up with events in Washington, as well as what Steely Dan might be up to these days.  It is a personal blog in the sense that it groups together TaiC’s predilections, whether they are the latest executive branch gaffe, Tom Tomorrow cartoon, YouTube clip of a jazzman, or general political or legal coverage.  Big ups, as some say, to TaiC’s sly and commonsensical sensibility, too – he knows when someone just needs to be quoted in their own words without the need for any annotation.  I guess it doesn’t hurt that I’m almost always in league with him politically.  Finally, I learned from him why Bill O’Reilly is called “Falafel,” information for which I’m sort of grateful.

Gawker: Did I say all of these sites were going to be non-behemoths?  The thing with Gawker is that everyone already knows it and has been vaguely annoyed by its pioneering role in spreading ultra-sarcasm around the internet.  Also, the site is parasitic in the sense that it skewers, over and over, the same elite/celebrity/wealthy subjects.  But maybe you haven’t checked it out lately.  The latest editorial team is the best yet, all snappy writers and sharp as push pins.  They cover more topics than before: I love the “restaurant tells” series, about the semiotics of eatery design features such as bare lightbulbs.  I also don’t think the current squad of Sicha, Gould, Balk, etc. gets enough credit for the general way that they use snark: they target the right targets (Amanda Hesser, the Misshapes (passim), cocaine), they leaven things by turning on themselves, they are smart and they get things.  The best flavor of haterade.  (Cool Breeze?)

Peter Bodo’s Tennis World
: This is the best blog about tennis on the internet, written by a majordomo of tennis journalism (he’s the author of the classic book “Courts of Babylon”).  Pete rises above mere reportage to a kind of cowboy tennis mythopoesis.  He speculates fearlessly about players’ minds and hearts, bestows nicknames with abandon, and writes effortlessly funny, complex and honest prose.  He also infuriates fans of various players and even continents (try his writing on the Argentine doping scandal or the Dubai tournament).  But unlike most bloggers, Pete has an inclusive sense of how this medium can create communities, and he has attracted a very large following that regularly posts six to eight hundred comments a day.  Try this: post a tennis question (sample: What is a kick serve?) in the comments – within an hour, several knowledgeable posters, perhaps even ex-pros or other eminent sports journalists, will have answered it, and, likely, begun a debate amongst themselves about the fine points.  More than a blog: a phenomenon, a way of life.

L.A. Woman: A blog by former NYC indie-icon-ruler Ann Magnuson, the rocker and frontwoman for Bongwater back in the days when Vincent Gallo was still scrawling his name into wet cement on Prince Street.  Magnuson has moved to La La and begun keeping this suitably airy diary of her doings and web crawlings for Paper magazine.  A constant source of great YouTube clips, accounts of smoke rising over Griffith Park, recollections of times past, self-promotional tidbits, and a general feeling of creative zaniness combined with an appreciation for faded or twisted glamour.  Fun for the whole family!

Steve Tignor’s The Wrap
: The other of Tennis Magazine’s blogs, and with a slightly different flavor than TennisWorld, but equally worth your reading time – this one by the executive editor of the magazine.  Steve is a technical analyst of the highest order, and to read his take on a match is to understand the players’ abilities and stroke mechanics like a pro player yourself.  But he also has a very deadpan sense of humor, and covers the cities to which he travels, and takes on other matters in witty asides.  Right now, though, the little match yesterday in Paris has posed the philosophical question of the hour: how do you decide how well or badly one player played in a sport as dialectical as tennis, in which the efforts of one directly limit or enable the possibilities of the other?  This dilemma is being turned over and over by the fans of Roger Federer, who (according to me) yesterday both lost to the better player on clay, Rafa Nadal, AND played well beneath his best.  Steve’s take, which is up now, is much more nuanced and typifies his ability to do that very difficult thing: describe what you see.

That Was Probably Awkward: A very new blog, co-written by a friend (gosh, I’m turning into Amanda Hesser myself), but I recommend it despite that.  It’s a diary of wandering around and contemplating – I know, but the writing is good! – a kind of throwback blog (we’re at that point already) written by two smartypantses, one of whom I know, as I said.  Blogs these days are all handling similar, public topics, and I find it refreshing to hear someone’s anonymous, private, wry reflections.  I think Walter Benjamin is their patron saint.  Somehow it has a similar effect on me as the Harry Potter books: it’s a kind of comfort reading.  Take that how you will, HT. 

Porkchop Express: What can I say?  If you are a New York City resident and you don’t already read the ‘Chop, start!  NOW.  J. Slab puts together the single raddest, dopest log of the adventures of a gastronome out there.  He’s usually ahead of the curve and while everyone else is talking Red Hook ballfields, he’s already in East Flatbush, eating roti and goat curry.  Except Slab is too smart to even think there is a curve – he knows that’s an artificial sensation produced, ironically, by his own influential internet principality, and all the media outlets pick up on it.  Also, the graphics are awesome.

Michael Berubé: Okay, I don’t check this very often at all, because it’s defunct.  But I mention it because I think this blog was the apotheosis of the first phase of the medium: it’s brilliant, self-indulgent, hilarious, informative, facile, and hugely time-consuming and logorrheic.  Berubé is one of those people who wins you over despite being annoyingly relaxed about being so accomplished yet cool, all while knowing it too: a professor, public left intellectual, academic ambassador, hockey player, ex-rock drummer, etc.  The blog exemplifies blogs – one man’s itinerary through a set of sometimes unmatching but always intriguing interests: politics, theory, the NHL, his son’s disability.  I assume everyone in academia was secretly jealous of Berubé for doing it, not to mention pissed that he revealed you could hold down a tenured professorship while spending four to six hours a day blogging, undermining academic claims of busy-ness everywhere.  But the result of all that pro-caliber time management is a great archeological record, still worth plowing though every so often.  This was The Spectator of blogs, or maybe The Tatler, Steele’s solo production.  If my friend Tricia Lawler reads this, she’ll tell us which.  Tricia?