Bankruptcy and Restart

Lockdown meant that I stopped listening to podcasts in April 2020 (no commute, no cooking, no treadmill).

About July 2020, I also got a little overwhelmed and couldn’t really read closely any more.

October 2020, I shifted from Delhi to Kanchi / Chennai. I now have a two hour commute one way which gives me lots of time to catch up on all the podcasts I missed, but substantially less time to think about them and write about them.

By January 2021, I was trying to get through that year long podcast backlog to such an extent that it was leaving me no time or inclination to read books.

Awful, isn’t it? So this here blogpost is to declare bankruptcy on the last twelve months. Any podcast I’ve listened to, I will not hold myself to logging. Nor TV or movies seen, nor books read. But anything I take up after this post, I’m committing to annotate and log with all the seriousness that I used to bring to this in 2018 and 2019.

Where podcasts are concerned, this will be anything with a publish date of 30 March onwards (30 March rather than 1 April because that’s when the new season of Flash Forward began). For stupid reasons, it won’t include EconTalk for another month or so. Also, anything that I’m watching or reading from tomorrow onwards. (Schitt’s Creek, like The Bugle, is out of scope for this blog because there isn’t really anything worth remembering from any given episode. It’s pure popcorn.)

Meanwhile, a quick list of standout things that got lost in this giving up on logging.

Books

Fall by Neal Stephenson: It blew me away but I remember very little of the details now. Like (almost) all Stephenson, it will probably be more rewarding on future reads, especially if I’m paying attention to details and checking them alongside rather than barrelling through the plot.

Masala Lab by Krish Ashok: technically, I still have a chapter left. I wish I had read this before Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; and it would have felt newer in that case. Now it just seems more like a… Class X guidebook, I guess?

The Girl Who Ate Books by Nilanjana Roy: collected columns and essays. Also technically still not unfinished. I think this is the book that suffered most from my being distracted all through the second half of 2020 – I just couldn’t give it the attention it deserved.

S A Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy – I had logged notes on the first in the trilogy, but gave up for the next two. After finishing it, I ended up feeling that it was good, but didn’t deserve the hype that all its recommenders had given it and that if they were this enthusiastic about it, I should have been even more evangelical about N K Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, which I thought was a tiny bit more accomplished. I did a reread a couple of weeks ago, and now it’s risen a bit in my estimation, as the plot twists aren’t so confusing on the reread and I can appreciate the level of plotting that went in. In terms of themes, though, it seemed a bit wishy washy both sidesist, but I suspect that it couldn’t have been one-sidesist without looking like either an anti-Parsi or anti-Saudi allegory. That worldbuilding though.

Anuja Chauhan’s Club You to Death: I was far too awed at how Anuja Chauhan had pivoted herself from PG Wodehouse to Agatha Christie to evaluate the book on its own merits. But I fell for the penultimate red herring. Man, she got me so good.

Movies

I don’t even remember if I watched any new movies up until the end of 2020. I recently saw Pagglait, and liked it. Shivani was a little upset that it wasn’t the Queen type no holds barred comedy that the trailer made it out to be. I was actually pretty happy with the dark comedy / satire that I got and the way it skewered both within-family hierarchies and tyrranies, and superstition / social norms.

Television

I watched House MD Season 5 through to the finale. Very little of the cases are memorable, but the downward spiral in the final few episodes was astonishing to watch.

I also saw Derry Girls almost up to the end of the first season and found it overrated.

I enjoyed Bridgerton like anything.

Podcasts

Flash Forward

I ended up getting a little exasperated at Flash Forward in the past season (did my no-log period cover more than a season? Can’t remember.) It’s the most leftist podcast I listen to, which is okay considering I have Econ Talk balancing it out but the past season seemed to have gone from Social Democracy to full on “Destroy Amazon! INQUILAAAAAAAAB!”

The fifth anniversary special, which was all messages to be sent fifty years into the future was full of astonishingly and depressingly pessimistic messages. But then it had been recorded in May 2020, when America was plumbed into despair, and I listened to it in November 2020, when India’s first wave had started to subside. So it felt very out of place, and may have contributed to my being less fond of this season than I usually am for Flash Forward.

That said, there were amazing episodes including the ones on shifting species to new habitats to deal with climate change (applicable for plants and not just animals) which brought back the monarch butterfly discussion that I’d seen in Locust last year; and the celeb cities one.

Ganatantra

I started Alok and Sarayu’s podcast midway. I enjoyed the federalism episodes the most, for their laying bare just how slimy the Central government is with giving money to the states (and I doubt that this is just a Modiji issue); plus their interview of Prem Panicker which had lots of fun factoids about the Sabarimala issue.

In Our Time

Standout episodes: Bird Migration, Frankenstein, Maria Theresa, Macbeth. I didn’t particularly enjoy the Fernando Pessoa episode, but oddly, some weeks after I listened to it, Pessoa kept popping up in other things I was reading, Marginal Revolution included, I think.

Our Fake History

I enjoyed pretty much everything, paid very little attention, but particularly enjoyed the Olga of Kiev, Rock and Roll, and Martial Arts ones. The Shakespeare one was so much fun that it left me with the urge to get in touch with Dr Acharya Somuchidonanda Pandey.

The Infinite Monkey Cage

The episode with Jane Goodall was my favourite. I enjoyed the end of the universe and reality ones less for the science and more for the comedians’ contributions. As also the whole rock licking bit in The History of Rock.

The flies and Neanderthal episodes were also ace.

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered that the BBC has a similar academic-comedian mixed panel show for history. How very tempting.

The Lit Pickers

It was such a comfort to listen to Supriya on my commute and I hope this podcast comes back.

Econ Talk

Russ Roberts going beyond economics and into philosophy was a great joy. Standout episodes in the past year to fourteen months:

  • Dan Klein on Honest Income
  • Peter Singer – I think I agreed with Singer more than Roberts did, and this episode will be worth many revisits.
  • Isabella Tree on Wilding – what a joy this episode was and how much hope it brought.
  • LA Paul on Vampires – I ended up making notes on this anyway, it affected me so much. I’ll probably put them on the blog sometime soon.
  • Russ Roberts himself seemed to be very taken with the episode he did with Agnes Callard and kept referring to it in subsequent episodes. I myself was too confused about what on earth Agnes Callard was talking about. Agnes Callard then kept showing up in my other reading as well – and did she talk about Pessoa, bringing two recurring motifs together? Oh, she did.
  • I thought the Apprenticeships episode would be more interesting than it eventually turned out to be. Oh well.
  • The Virginia Postrel episode on textiles was also a delight and tied in with my visits to my textile suppliers. I’m planning to read the book as well.
  • The Why We Drive episode left me feeling a little shortchanged and thinking that this was a guest who refused to see the other point of view when making his case.
  • The Lamorna Ash episode was also a delight.

In general, the developing theme in EconTalk of trying to avoid a life plan and not trusting to numbers too much is something I hope keeps developing over the next few years.

Sidenote: I have a driver now. And while being in the backseat should technically leave me free to take notes while listening to podcasts, I suspect that I pay more attention and absorb more when I’m driving instead of lolling in the backseat. Bah.

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