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Author | Journalist | Speaker

Films Daughters of the Dust (1991, USA) This is one of the most surprising movies I’ve ever watched. It's about a group of African-Americans, with a distinct culture, living on a South Carolinian island after the Civil War. The community contemplates leaving the island to integrate into conventional society. It’s about leaving home to seek opportunity. It’s about casting off institutions to embrace personal freedom. It’s about abandoning one’s culture to skinny-dip into the American melting pot. The culture felt alien to me, but the themes are as American as they can get. A The Return (2003, Russian) A father mysteriously returns after a twelve-year absence, to embark on the camping trip from hell with his two boys. It has a lot to say about the state of masculinity in Russia. The father is a brute, but the film’s central (and heartbreaking) question is whether the father is merely a brute or trying his best to prepare his boys for a brutal world. A- The Wild Pear Tree (2018, Turkey) I have developed a special weakness for slow, 3-hour-long, atmospheric Turkish movies. This is the third film I’ve watched by director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. In this one, a young writer struggles to sell his first book. B No Bears (2022, Iranian) This film is very much like Ceylan's films, where educated urbanites are marooned in rural villages. In this one, our protagonist contends with, to his eyes, bafflingly outmoded rituals and traditions. B Aftersun (2022, Scotland) A Scottish father and daughter go on holiday to a Turkish holiday resort. It sounds like a comedy, but it’s a melancholic drama about depression and the nature of memory. I will never forget this one. A Eastern Promises (2007, USA) I love pretty much everything Viggo Mortensen does, and this thriller features, hands down and briefs off, cinema's best-ever naked fight scene in a sauna. B+ Stories We Tell (2012, Canada) A moving and funny documentary from actor/director Sarah Polley. She interviews her family about a big family secret: her mother had an affair and never told Sarah who her real father was. B+ Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning (2023, USA) The scene in which a train cascades down an Austrian cliff was worth the price of admission, but I just wish a film so visually amazing would weave the action with a serious plot, believable dialogue, and meaningful relationships between characters. It has neither the heart of Top Gun: Maverick nor the compelling (and realistic) plot of something like Eastern Promises. C+ TV Jury Duty (2023, Amazon) This one starts to fizzle in the final episodes, and a lot of comedic scenarios misfire, but I have a special weakness for “reality-prank comedy.” The premise — surrounding a real person with actors in a fake trial — is ingenious. I really wish there were more shows like this. Get someone to believe they’re a spy recruited by the CIA to save the world. Get someone to believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. The possibilities are endless. B The Rehearsal (2022, HBO) A somewhat innocent experiment turns dark as show-runner, Nathan Fielder, grapples with the nature of artistry: Is it okay to exploit others for the sake of one’s artistic product? B+ What I’m Listening to Drifting off with Joe Pera - Fellow Buffalo man, Joe Pera, has a new podcast with some of the best sound production I’ve heard. I found this episode, in which he interviews a video game voice actor, touching. The Unspeakable with Meghan Daum - My favorite essayist, Tim Kreider, talks about the mortifying ordeal of being known, and evolutionary psychologist, Diana Fleischman, talks about human sexuality. Ezra Klein - I don’t think Klein gets credit enough for his curious mind and broad subject matter, which ranges from the here-and-now details of the Russia-Ukraine war to interviews with novelists. While the news is devoted to disposable political scandals and while much of podcastdom moans about wokism, I find that Klein is grappling with the stuff that never makes front page headlines but that matters most. Here’s a fascinating discussion with an author about how being animal could help us be better humans. Rewatchables — My favorite movie podcasters review, what they call, one of the last real comedies, This is The End. WTF — I wish Marc Maron would abandon his usual interviewing formula, which is to get a famous person to recount their professional life from the beginning to the present. Forget the autobiography; I find his discussions about ideas with thinkers far more engaging. Here’s one on the state of conspiracy theories with Robert Guffey. Bill Simmons Podcast — Behind all the NBA and NFL chatter, there's often a really interesting conversation about other stuff. Skip ahead to Chuck Klosterman talking about the woman who weirdly claimed that a man "wasn't real" on an airplane and to a good discussion on AI with Derek Thompson.

What I’ve been doing A good portion of my time is devoted to fixing my house (which is only 25 years old!). After two years of chronic respiratory problems and a curious smell coming from the kitchen (that I’d hoped would just magically waft away), I finally tore down the old countertop to find a wall full of mold. It has taken longer than expected to tear out all the moldy dry wall and insulation, cut pipes, install a new sink, and make our own homemade concrete countertop, so we’ve been without a kitchen sink for three months, hosing down our dishes in the front lawn like hill people. To pay for everything, I’m planning a Fall speaking tour — which might be my last for many years — hopefully along North America’s West Coast, where I've never given talks before. I enjoy the speaking tours, but they — and the ordeal of making money — has distracted me from my true vocation, which is being an author. Off and on, I have been working on my relationship memoir Out of the Wild for two years now. I’d say I’m about 4/5ths done with the first draft. Most times, I just edit some of the early chapters, which are far more funny and refined than the later stuff, which reads like a bad rough draft. But that’s just the nature of writing: it gets better with age.

  • Ken Ilgunas

I have a 3.5-year-old daughter who, for the first time, isn't impossible to travel with. We had a nice weekend holiday on the Isle of Bute, where I dusted off my camera, which I hadn't taken out of its case for years.

Once known as the "Madeira of Scotland," Bute used to be a common (and easy) getaway for people across the UK. (A train station takes you right to the ferry, or you could take your car on the ferry for a measly £40 round-trip.) The main town of Rothesay has a shambly, falling-apart feel to it, like it's seen better days, which was the case. Decades ago, cheap flights made it just as easy and cheap to get to the real Madeira, and not one known for midges, rain, and gray skies.

My main observation: For such a small country, the variances in climate across Scotland are exceptional. I live on the dry, sunny east coast. The west coast (just 100 miles away) feels way more sodden, more humid, and more ferny.

Sidenote & something for me to look into: I am amazed that the VIkings came all the way over to raid and colonize these relatively resource-poor Scottish islands, including Bute. On first glance, I don't see how that could have been worth the hassle, but, as I say, something for me to look into...

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