Myself

My World This Week

  • The Krazy Kat Kwest comes to a Klose. I plan to write more about this, but I got the second volume of Fantagraphics’ long-out-of-print hardcover edition of Krazy and Ignatz, spanning 1925-34, around 600 pages, as well as the oversized Taschen reprint of the color Sundays from 1935-44. Both came in the mail via different sources, and many happy hours were spent poring, and giggling over, the antics of Krazy, Ignatz, and Offissa Pup.

  • Lynda Barry and Ocean Vuong were both among the recipients of the Macarthur Genius Grants for 2019. I am attending a talk between Barry and Chris Ware on October 15, and looking forward to it hugely.

  • Travellers of the Third Reich was a book that accompanied me nearly all week. Subtitled “The Rise of Fascism through the Eyes of Everyday People”, the book is an excellent example of how people living through historical events misinterpret, misjudge, and are sometimes completely oblivious to it. It is only with the benefit of hindsight and multiple streams of information that we arrive at conclusions, decades in the future, of what really happened. Fascinating and chilling at the same time.

  • The deluge of terrible Batman stories continues, with Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Batman: Damned just out. Today there was supposed to be a signing by the creators at Vroman’s in Pasadena, and I almost made it there, except I decided to read the book beforehand. The dispassionate part of me tries to say that maybe I am really too old for this shit, while another side ignores all niceties and throws up streams of contempt at the intellectual bankruptcy of it all. This is a sweaty, incoherent mess of a comic-book, and the artwork of course plays the role of putting layers of rouge on a fetid, fly-ridden dung-heap. Not that there aren’t people who lose their minds over the “grittiness” of a story that has the Joker dead, Batman being portrayed as a leather-clad psychopath who is haunted by literal demons from childhood, and guest appearances from the occult corners of the DC Universe. If you bring your nose closer to the pages, you may smell a potent mix of Axe body spray and desperation. Fuck this book, fuck the intellectually bankrupt creators who are raping the Killing Joke corpse, and fuck the market for supporting crap like this.

  • Watched Booksmart again, now that it is available on digital platforms. $10 4K UHD on Vudu, why not? The karaoke sequence still makes me pee with hysterical laughter, and there has never been a better use of the word ‘Malala’ in popular culture. The soundtrack has been a summer staple, and rewatching the film made me rediscover some tracks even better, with the visual context. ‘Double Rum Cola’, though, man. What a track.

  • LA Find of the Week: The Inn of the Seventh Ray, a restaurant high up in Topanga Canyon. Excellent place for a morning buffet, and the drive is pure adrenaline, especially in an open-top Jeep Wrangler.

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Myself

Of Foes, Lovers, and Letters Through Time

Possibly one of the most beautiful books I have read this year, this 200-page epistolary novel (novella?) co-written by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. With chapters that tumble through timelines and settings, called Strands, in a seemingly-eternal war between two factions. One of them a “viney hivey elfworld” and the other a “techy mechy dystopia”, both laying down strategies that span multiple centuries and possibilities. All so that their side may win.

None of that is important.

What matters is the flow of words that mold the shape of the story, an exchange of letters between two agents on the opposing sides, named Red and Blue. These are not the only names the two use for each other, for the messages that begin as a trickle of taunts and challenges soon become missives laced with humor, flirtations, and emotions laid bare. With their words, they slash and thrust and parry, and very soon, they insinuate themselves in the other’s mind and heart. “Words can wound, but they can be bridges, too”, to quote a line.

The book made me lament the fact that over the years, everything we write seems to become terser, to the point. Like we have forgotten to surf through our ideas, to race through our waves of thought and action and slow them down into a dance of spaces and characters, punctuation and pause. We revel in our economy of discourse, images embedded with a sprinkle of words on the side, coated with a side of irony, all erasing the primal weaponry of words. We feel relief, both at saving ourselves the trouble of over-sharing, and of having saved the other person some time by compressing both our words and perhaps our feelings.

Even typing this feels wrong, like yelling into a void from where nothing echoes back. This feels like a predictable yearning for something which never really existed, the kind of weltschmertz that also seems to haunt one’s soul at a particular age. But mostly, it feels like a pity that no one I know ever says, “Tell me something true, or tell me nothing at all.” The small joy that reading a simile like “apophenic as a haruspex” brings.

Behold, the peerless use of language to both evoke emotions, and establish the character. This is Red, she of the technological antecedents.

I bite blueberry pancakes drizzled with maple syrup, extra butter — that expanding fluff, the berry’s pop against my teeth, butter’s bloom in my mouth. I explore sweetnesses and textures. I am never hungry, so I don’t race to the next bite. I eat glass, and as it cuts my gums, I savor minerals, metals, impurities; I see the beach from which some poor bastard skimmed the sand. Small rocks taste of the river, of rubbed fish scale, of glaciers long gone. They crunch, crisp, celery-like.

And this is part of a letter from Blue, she of the forest and the vale.

I love you. If you’ve come this far, that’s all I can say. I love you and I love you and I love you, on battlefields, in shadows, in fading ink, on cold ice splashed with the blood of seals. In the rings of trees. In the wreckage of a planet crumbling to space. In bubbling water. In bee stings and dragonfly wings, in stars. In the depths of lonely woods where I wandered in my outh, staring up — and even then you watched me. You slid back through my life, and I have known you since before I knew you.

I feel like I need to reread this book. Or better still, listen to it. Audio-books no longer put me to sleep, and Time War feels like the perfect candidate for a voice-over at the start of a work-day.

Highly, highly recommend.

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Books, Myself

On Stephen King Rarities #3

I know, I know, a third post on the same topic seems like a momentous occasion. My previous attempts to serialize any thematic content have crashed and flamed –– search for ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’, as an example. But this will be the last post on Stephen King collectibles, I swear. At least for now.

The Third Book

The Shining, Subterranean Press

Illustration by Vincent Cheong

I believe I have talked about The Shining and all that it led to at least seven times on the blog, so no more of that. Once I began my journey into SK collectible territory, there was no doubt this book had to be part of the collection. But this is where reality and the intricacies of the market come into play.

The limited signed edition was published by Subterranean Press, a Michigan-based specialty press that I have talked about in the past. This edition came with a bit of controversy before and during its publication. The original illustrator (Gabriel Rodriguez, of Locke and Key fame) was replaced by Vincent Chong. Early copies shipped out to buyers had significant issues such as rubbing, spotting, and color transfer problems. The publisher had to issue a dust jacket and send it out to buyers, along with a gift card for a future purchase and replacement tray-cases for copies that had the color transfer issue. (Details here)

The Subterranean limited release has 750 copies, signed by King and Chong. The book and the tray-case are beautiful, high-quality deckle-edged paper and print quality. The cover is minimalist, with beautiful patterns on a background of blue. Chong’s illustrations pop out on the color pages, and there was even an accompanying sketchbook that contained preliminary pencil pieces.

But the lack of any extra material is a disappointment. No preface, no afterword, no essay, or deleted material. What really got my goat is that as part of the Doubleday Years reprints that a different publishing house, Cemetery Dance was bringing out, this book got a different, unsigned deluxe release, one that was more desirable than the SubPress version. Why? An email from CD explains:

We have some AMAZING news to share. As you know, Stephen King has graciously allowed us to restore his long lost, 40 page prologue called “Before the Play” to the beginning of the book. It has never appeared in any edition of THE SHINING anywhere in the world and may never be reprinted again.
In the weeks since the book sold out, something even more incredible has happened. A collector named Jon Page contacted us because he had something very special in his collection: an earlier draft of the manuscript, when it was still called THE SHINE, which had been sent around to Hollywood production studios to sell the movie rights before the book was published.
This manuscript includes HUNDREDS of sentences, paragraphs, and even scenes not included in the final book we all know and love. Of particular interest is a four page section toward the end known as “After the Play,” which even Stephen King believed had been lost forever because he didn’t have a copy in his archives.
Thanks to Jon’s amazing discovery, and Steve’s generous permission, all of this Deleted Material will now be included as Bonus Section in our special edition of THE SHINING, which you already have on order. You do not need to do anything to confirm you are receiving this material, it will be in every copy of our edition.
Adding this material will take about two weeks of additional production time, but it means this version of the book will be as definitive as possible, which should make it an even bigger hit with collectors for years to come. A HUGE “thank you” goes out to Jon and Steve for making this addition to the book possible.

This was in addition to a foreword by King, and an afterword by Mick Garris, the director of the TV adaptation of the book. The TV miniseries, by the way, was King’s attempt to outdo Kubrick’s version, which he hated. The Cemetery Dance edition was also illustrated by Don Maitz and Glenn Chadbourne, and all in all, looked just as fancy as the SubPress edition. Except, like I said, it was unsigned. Well, there was an ‘Artist Edition’ signed by the illustrators, but no King signature.

So this is where one needs to make hard choices –– what truly is a ‘definitive’ version? Is it the author’s endorsement? Or is it something that contains all paraphernalia associated with a work? The heart says the former, the head the latter. I did end up buying the Subterranean Press version on eBay. Even got a limited UK edition of Doctor Sleep to go with it, signed by Stephen King with only 200 copies published. But oft in the gentle night, ere slumber’s chains have bound me, I find myself looking at Cemetery Dance listings on eBay. To sum it all up in a thousand words:

Umm yeah.
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Books, Childhood, Myself

On Stephen King Rarities #2

This is the second part of a series of posts on collecting Stephen King limited editions.

The Second Book

Salem’s Lot, Centipede Press

Photograph by Jerry Uelsmann

Every now and then I think about the purpose of this blog, and am assaulted by dark thoughts about vanity and pointlessness. But then an exercise like this makes me realize why it is important to me. A simple thing –– memory. With the inevitability of time, the onset of age, and the realization of my mortality, there is comfort in remembering moments that made me who I am. It is strange to look back and realize that I read a book for the first time when I was nineteen; I will turn forty this year, which means that a literal lifetime has passed by. Until I started writing this post, I didn’t consciously think about Salem’s Lot and my first experience of it. I was trying to think of what the cover of my copy looked like. And when I did, a bunch of surprising memories tumbled out.

In the summer of 1998, important things were happening in my life. I had graduated from Pre-University (or Higher Secondary, a term I personally did not prefer) in Cotton College, Guwahati. The early part of that year was spent appearing for multiple examinations; first came the Higher Secondary exams, the hall-pass required by the powers that be to declare us suitable to appear for various other examinations, each dedicated to a Hallowed Institution. Those included the IITs (did not make it through), Roorkee examinations (the secondary choice, and one I was not interested in), and the Joint Admission Tests, the ones which guided my life. Once the exams were done, it was then time to scramble across the country applying for various disciplines. There wasn’t any time to waste, future careers were at stake. All that we knew, back then, was that we needed to make it into a Good College, somewhere outside Assam. Everything else would fall into place.

In my inner life, however, I was absorbed with other things, primarily a newfound passion for the writings of Stephen King. The Shining had exploded into my consciousness during a trip to Delhi. Suddenly, in this pre-Internet world of coincidental self-curation, this writer’s work clicked with me in that inexplicable way, like a floating jigsaw piece that snaps into place and unlocks a puzzle you’ve been dreaming of completing. The more I looked up this guy’s books (and the most you could do, at that time, was look up Encyclopaedia Brittanica entries, or ask around), they showed promise. They did not seem formulaic, ranging from killer dogs to telepathic children to childhood monsters. Stephen King seemed like the kind of guy who wrote books just for me.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the booksellers of Guwahati were impervious to the charms of Sai King. The only book I saw on display was Cujo, and the number of unsold copies just turned me off, a phenomenon I refer to as the ‘Waiting To Exhale effect’, named after the other book that kept turning up in every single bookshop I visited in India. So while my parents fretted about the upcoming cross-country travel to my new alma mater, the one thing ticking away in my mind was –– how do I maximize the potential to pick up King books on the train ride? We were going to pass through Calcutta, a place whose bibliophilic charms I was familiar with, thanks to summer science camps from the last two years. I convinced my father to stop in Howrah for half a day, also making it clear what my intentions were. Not ashamed to admit that I was blatantly taking advantage of his separation anxiety.

In any case, we ended up in Gol Park, the Used Fiction Central in the city, much like College Street was the Used Textbook Haven. I don’t think I ever saw the actual park that gave the place its name, because every time I was there, hours would pass as I pored over the stacks of books along the street stalls. Not all the shops would be open at the same time, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see a bookseller languidly walk and unshutter a set of wooden planks, and begin that algorithmic Display Dance, where the best-sellers got pride of place, while the real, kooky titles that I was interested in would be relegated to the back, or be lost in a forest of multi-colored spines. It was a great game, maybe The Greatest Game I loved to play while growing up, this act of excavating shiny treasures from amidst dust and age. The byproduct of scarcity, I guess.

That day, I struck metaphorical gold. Not only did I find some great King books, but they were being sold at great prices. There was DesperationNight ShiftInsomnia, and the non-fiction Danse Macabre, and managed to talk down the bookseller with a combination of flattery and nonchalance that I had perfected in Guwahati. My father was amused by the haggling, I knew he would just have paid the 150 Rs instead of the 100 that we finally agreed on.

As the guy was pocketing the money, he off-handedly pointed me to a different store. “He may have a Stephen King or two”, he said. I wasn’t too convinced, I had given the shop he pointed at a once-over, and was not taken by the gentleman’s collection. There were some Conan The Barbarian paperbacks, and an Agatha Christie or two, but I had been thorough enough, and there was narry a King in sight. But I took a chance, went over, and asked the gentleman directly, which is something you do not do, dear bargain hunters. Because if the seller knows you are looking for a writer, the price does not budge.

“Hmmm, King, King”, the man muttered to himself, casting an eye on the shelves behind him. Just as I was sure it was time to go, he said “Aha, yes, yes, here”, and brought out a book that had no cover, no discernible spine (which explained why I did not see it in the first place), and covered in a layer of dust. I flipped to page one, and caught my breath.

It was Salem’s Lot. To my Dracula-worshipping eighteen-year old self, there was no other King title I was more interested in. ‘Vampires in small-town America’ was a phrase that made my nether regions tingle. So I did the logical thing, which was to put the book back on the shelf, with a vague look of nonchalance on my face. “It’s too damaged, dada”, I said. “I would have bought it if it was in a better condition. “

“Condition shondition”, he countered. “You won’t find this anywhere else.”

I knew. But obviously I did not want him to know that I knew.

“Na na, I am headed to Hyderabad, they may have more copies there.”

“Hmm, fine fine. But I would have sold it for….”, he paused, and spat a dollop of paan juice to the side. “Hmm, twenty rupees. Yes, it is yours for twenty.”

I looked at him with awe and disgust. “Dada, I just bought these three pristine-looking books for 25 Rs each, from your friend over there.”

“Did you? Did you? Hmm, how much do you want to pay then?”

“I am not even sure I want it, it’s…”, I picked up the book and grimaced. “It’s so old, I can read it once and then it will fall apart.” Which was sort of true, really.

“All right, it’s bohni time”, he said, and spat again. Bohni, dear readers, is the peculiar belief that the first sale of the day is more important than other sales, and concessions have to be made to facilitate it. “Last offer, 10 rupees.”

I could see my father, a little tired of the rigmarole, edge towards his wallet, and before he could, I blurted out. “Five rupees!”

And regretted it the next second, because of course it was too low, and the guy would be insulted, and he would ask me to get out of town and never come back again. 

That did not happen. He shrugged, spat for the third time, and said, “Ok fine, five it is.”

Dear reader, you wouldn’t have believed the shit-eating grin on my face as I walked away. Or maybe you do. It stayed on my face for the bulk of the day, and every now and then, I would open my bag and touch the five new Stephen King books I bought that day, just to make sure I owned them, and that I was still in the real world.

The train stopped at Vijaywada a day later, our last major stop before the journey ended, and a quick trip to the largish bookstore on the Central Platform got me The Dark Half and Four Past Midnight. They were new books, and I paid 50 Rs each for them, which was the limit of my mental allowance for a book at that point of time in my life. My father did not complain, he somehow understood that this was important for me. Plus separation anxiety.

I read all the books in the course of the next year. Back then, it was a bad idea to blaze through reading material, because days of hitting the motherlode would be followed by extended periods of scarcity. In a few years, that would no longer be the case, but I had no idea then. So I paced myself. Salem’s Lot was the last of the lot I read, obviously. I read the short story ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ in Night Shift, and wondered if the book was related. But the story was more Lovecraft than Dracula, and as it turned out, they weren’t connected by anything other than the name of the place where the story and the novel were set. The Lot, with Castle Rock and Derry, form the trinity of fictional Maine towns that King created in his version of the state. It was inspired by small towns, and the story of a specific ghost town.

It is based on a town in upstate Vermont, that I heard about as an undergraduate in college, called Jeremiah’s Lot. I was going through Vermont with a friend and he pointed out the town, just in passing, as we went by in the car. He said, “You know, they say that everybody in that town just simply disappeared in 1098.” I said, “Aw, come on. What are you talking about?” He said, “That’s the story. Haven’t you heard of the Marie Celeste where everybody supposedly disappeared? This is the same thing. One day they were there and then one day a relative came over to look for someone that they hadn’t heard from in awhile; and all of the houses were empty. Some of the houses had dinner set on the table. Some of the stores still had money in them. It was covered in mold from the summer damp and it was starting to rot, but nobody had stolen it. The town was completely emptied out.”

https://bit.ly/2PlVueI

My favorite memory of Salem’s Lot does not have to do with my first read. Of course I enjoyed the book, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I was enthralled by the small-town setting, the moments of tension that King builds slowly, those terrifying sequences when shit really hits the fan in the town. The downbeat ending crushed my heart, but I respected the writer’s choices. They were, as always, great choices.

My favorite memory of Salem’s Lot was convincing my friend Udatta to read the book. My college seniors tolerated my King-lust, but they found the writing too weird or pulpy, and horror is not an emotion people crave. Udatta in general was fond of classic literature, he was my gateway to the likes of Henry Miller and the Beat writers. He picked up Salem’s Lot, I suspect, because it did not have a cover. He took it from me one weekday afternoon, and at about 10 PM in the night, I hear a knock on the door of my hostel room. 

“Chetri”, he said. “You’re coming with me.”

“Uh, ok. Where?”

“My room. My roommates are away, and I just read this scene where the children appear at the window in the middle of the night, and now I cannot look at my window. Or be in my room alone.”

I confess I cackled more unkindly than I should have, but I did end up spending the night giving him company as he finished the book. After which he threw it at me and said, “Great book. But I am not reading any more of your King stuff ever again.”

That copy did not fall apart as I had claimed. Books are more resilient than the rest of us.

Some years later, I was in Waldenbooks in Hyderabad, when I saw an incredible copy of Salem’s Lot for sale. It was the illustrated edition, and it had an insane price tag, something like 500 Rs. I didn’t buy it, and for many years, had a twinge of regret every time I thought about not buying it.

Searching for this book later on eBay, however, led me to realize that it was the mass-market edition of an extremely limited release of Salem’s Lot, by a publishing house called Centipede Press. How limited? Here’s the description:

When I bought it –– oh yeah, I knew I had to buy it, once the collectible lust was on me –– I was astounded by the sheer heft of the thing. It looks comparable to one of the Taschen XL books, and weighs six kilos (13 lbs). The all-black cloth binding, embossed sparsely with the name of the book and its author, is austere and classy at the same time. Jerry Uelsmann’s pre-digital era photomontages are somber works of art that complement the tone of the book perfectly. The cloth covering does make it sort of a dust magnet, but that does not bother me much. It does bother me, however, that the weight of the book makes it impossible to read normally.

But boy, does it look great on the shelf.

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Myself

The Second Marie Kondo post

This is a followup to my first Marie Kondo post, and is meant to serve as a thought-dump of what I took from the book, and how it has affected my life. I am well aware of the risks of sounding vaguely faddish — like people that can’t stop talking about their cross-fit classes or that new vegan diet that has changed everything and why you should take them up too, because life is meaningless otherwise, darling.

Uh-huh. The context here is that I have, for a while, been wondering about specific things regarding my lifestyle. The only thing that moved with me to LA from India, were my collection of books. These are books that have (mostly) been bought from 2002 onwards, ever since I graduated from college, and have moved with me from apartment to apartment, city to city. The ones bought before 2002? Most were transferred to my parents’ place in Assam. A lot of those have ended up in the library in my mother’s school, or have gone to her students who seemed interested in reading.

Over the last few years, I have been curating the books that stay on my shelves, which is to say that the ones on display in the living room are the ones that I *love* to own. Now a bulk of these books are comics and manga, and while I have quirks related to those (case in point: at one point, Watchmen was present in my shelves as the original 12 issues, a trade paperback, a 10th anniversary trade paperback, and an Absolute Edition. Right now, I just have the Absolute Edition and the original 12 issues), the comics get read and reread frequently. I cleared out a couple of shelves before moving to LA, and last year, a chunk of comics that I never read went to the local comic-book store. But despite my occasional cleanup, I still had way too many books. And the sad thing is — it’s not like I reread any of them. They were all just there, as a function of my taste and what was available in bookstores in the last decade. You have to remember, that was a time when e-readers did not exist, and neither did Flipkart or Amazon. If I saw a book at a used bookstore and did not pounce on it, I had no idea if I would ever see it again. So yeah, I bought everything, because I was earning enough and I could. My buying habits changed over the years, and it’s no longer about going nuts during a discount sale or bidding on random deals on eBay,

The best thing of Marie Kondo, in my opinion, is that she does not talk of minimalism — which right now is an -ism that encourages a competitive zeal in lowering the number of possessions you own. Ms Kondo’s techniques help enable a certain kind of mental freedom in evaluating your possessions. You do not need to disown everything, she says. All you have to do is to find the things that bring you joy. Which meant that the question she asked was not “what do you want to throw away?”, it was “what do you want to keep?”

One fine day last week, I did what the KonMari method prescribed. Which is to tackle one kind of item at a time — in this case, books — and piling them all in one place; and without being distracted, to sort them one by one into two categories: the ones that spark joy and the ones that don’t. At first, I was too lenient. Of course, I loved my Terry Pratchett paperbacks, and the Tom Sharpes, and the Robert Heinleins and the Andrew Vachsses. They were not getting out of my sight. Why on earth would I want to get rid of my Harry Potter first edition hardcovers? Or the Kamala Subramanium Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana that I bought so many years ago? Those books were memories for me, and it seemed criminal to get rid of them.

Except, if I took away my projected feelings for them, they were just semi-yellowed, well-thumbed blocks of paper, most of which hadn’t been opened in years. My Stephen King Dark Tower books were still waiting to be read since 2005 or thereabouts. The Richard Burton Arabian Nights volume, pretty as it was, had never been opened in the United States. I reread some Vachss and some Pratchetts every now and then. But not the books I owned; I would just download them on my Kindle when I wanted. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the books weren’t really bringing much of value to my life, they were more fetish objects than the ideas they represented. Once that switch flipped in my head, it became easier and easier to understand what I should keep, and what should go.

I ended up with 9 boxes of books that I no longer wanted, after 2 nights of sorting. I took them all to the local charity shop. The books that still remain fit one shelf; there is another shelf that I will refer to as a ‘probation area’; I have left the books that I may put up on eBay, or give away as gifts, or are novel enough to merit their presence. I could not get rid of the first edition of Gods, Demons and Others, as much as I thought I would; nor could I let the Diana Wynne-Joneses go. But I have given myself 3 months – if the books on the probation area still remain untouched and unread, they all go.

One might think that there is an addendum where I reminiscence about the emptiness the missing books have left in my life, but on the contrary, I feel happy. And free, in a way. Is that a two-thumbs-up vote for the KonMari method? I guess. I still feel like I cheated because I did not do anything about my comics, but you know, I am okay with that. My comics have always sparked joy in my life.

In addition to what I did above (and I did that with my clothes a few weeks ago, which was easier), I have been doing specific things that Ms Kondo recommends in her book.

  • The most important thing is that of mentally assigning things in their right place, at home. She advocates figuring out where every item you own belongs, so that the amount of clutter is minimized, and also you think more about where something new should go, when you think of buying it.
  • Clearing the space around the kitchen sink, the bathroom shower and wash basin. It helps a lot, both in terms of aesthetics and mental calm.
  • Folding my clothes the right way and stacking them horizontally, not vertically; that’s one of the smartest moves ever. I did that with everything, including socks, underwear, hand towels, pocket squares and t-shirts, and it really serves its purpose well.
  • In general, using the ‘spark joy’ method is a great way to figure out if you want to do something, anything at all. An invite to a dinner party? A choice between reading this book or that book or not reading either of them? If it’s not making me happy, why should I be doing it all?
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