The Best TinyLetters You Should Subscribe To

February 11, 2017 TinyLetter_Logo

Is TinyLetter the new Tumblr? Here are a few of our favorite direct-to-inbox reads.

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Courtesy: Channel Four Television Corporation 2017

i have to tell you about this by Aisha Muharrar
Aisha Muharrar is a TV comedy writer and bookworm who has a keen eye for humor and good storytelling. In each edition of her Tiny Letter “i have to tell you about this,” Aisha recommends one cool thing you should be imbibing.—JL

An excerpt:
What I love most about Chewing Gum is that pretty much every character is someone I’ve never seen on TV. I’ve watched so much television and written it that I can usually see any plot twist coming. The one thing that throws me off is original characters. Seeing how new types of people respond to same-old situations makes it new again! That’s also a writing tip for any aspiring TV writers reading this.

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Courtesy: Cassie Marketos

mmmm, vol 1. by Cassie Marketos
Whenever I hear from our friend Cassie, this sentence that Oliver Sacks once wrote for the New York Times comes to mind: “I have had an intercourse with the world.” Cassie is having an intercourse with the world right now and when we are lucky, she lets us in via her TinyLetter “mmmm, vol 1.” She’s traveled the world, worked for former POTUS Obama, experienced more life than anyone I know. And what an amazing writer she is! Someone give her a book deal.—JL

An excerpt:
“Really, you must lean into it,” I remember instructing a heartbroken acquaintance, scribbling her a postcard from the aquatically hot jungles of Borneo. “These are the things that make us better.”
Ah, god. Idiot pain.

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Jenna Wortham

Courtesy: fermentation & formation

fermentation & formation by Jenna Wortham
New York Times writer (and co-host of the excellent Still Processing podcast) Jenna Wortham explores different forms of self-care in her TinyLetter “fermentation & formation.” Ayurveda, teas, music, and other rituals that you too can experiment with at home—simple joys with otherworldly vibes.—JL

An excerpt:
The tonic will light a flame inside you that will ground and perhaps even guide you through the next few days. This month’s full moon is in Cancer, a tender water sign, brimming with volatile emotions. Feeling all the feelings is unavoidable, so prepare thy heart and body accordingly.

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Courtesy: Riverhead Books

Well Read Black Girl by Glory Edim
As the newsletter supplement to the IRL Brooklyn-based book club of the same name, WRBG offers anyone outside of NYC the chance to connect with its founder, Glory Edim, and her mission to “celebrate and promote the phenomenal Black women on our bookshelves.” Every month or so Glory delivers handpicked book recs and a selection of poems and quotes that seem to say the exact things you need to hear. As Glory wrote in a recent edition, “More books. Deeper connections. Limitless love.” (Full disclosure, I work with Glory and think she’s wonderful.)—MML

An excerpt:
Brit [Bennett] writes about the complexities of love, family, and friendship. [In The Mothers], she has created beautifully nuanced characters who experience heartbreak and make decisions that at times leave the reader puzzled. But isn’t that real life? Everyone simply trying to do their best. I fell in love with the sharpness of Nadia Turner and the mystery that surrounded her upbringing. Also, I cried every other page. In conclusion, you must read this BOOK.

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Dry-Down

Courtesy: Osswald Parfumerie + Luxury Skincare Boutique

The Dry Down by Rachel Syme and Helena Fitzgerald
I’ve been following Rachel Syme’s writing around the internet ever since I read her Broad City piece in Grantland a couple of years ago. When she announced on Twitter that she and her writer friend Helena Fitzgerald were creating a newsletter dedicated to “perfume as a shared language,” I immediately signed up. The Dry Down is an elegantly written celebration of all things fragrance, with each installment delivering stories inspired by powerful scent memories. According to Syme’s website, the newsletter will soon become a podcast. Until then, subscribe for the A+ scent recommendations, and reread for the thoughtful, intimate words. —MML

An excerpt:
Perfume’s particular connection to memory is one of its most well-known powers, and perhaps for this reason it easily takes on the things we want to share with the people we love, but cannot heave into words. I can’t really tell you why this one particular week when I was twelve mattered, but here, smell this, it’s like the powdered violets in Apres L’Ondee.

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19th+amendment

Courtesy: Ann Friedman

(Not Actually a TinyLetter But) The Ann Friedman Weekly by Ann Friedman
It’d be hard to list all of the life lessons and vocab words I’ve picked up from reading and listening to journalist Ann Friedman over years. Like Call Your Girlfriend, the podcast she co-hosts with her long-distance BFF Aminatou Sow, The Ann Friedman Weekly offers a buffet of thought-provoking articles, life advice, GIFs, pie charts, calls to action, and more valuable brain pickings each Friday. She’s like the smarter, cooler, taller sister I never had. —MML

An excerpt:
Like Trump. I argue we should create a registry of the people who pose a threat to America. Only I’d like to enroll entitled white men.

What newsletters are you reading? Do men have TinyLetters? Let us know.

Judging You

Book covers should be waaay better than they are.
December 6, 2013 No bueno.

My first job out of college landed me as a producer in an in-house art department at MTV. There, I learned a lot about packaging, advertising, brand identity, design, and photography. And though I quit that world last year for editorial pastures, the lessons I learned in aesthetics still follow me everywhere—I catch myself staring at print advertising and layouts, dissecting what works and what doesn’t.

So when it comes to receiving books for STET, I admit I’m pretty underwhelmed by the book covers that greet me. I wish they were better. They SHOULD be better. I mean, I don’t know the costs of manufacturing a book (and I’m sure it’s a shit ton) but I wish publishing houses would spend a little more effort into the book cover designs. I think it would help tremendously with sales. Since I’m not a big fan of hardcover book designs (or hardcovers in general), I’ll wait for the paperback release to see if the art is any better (and they usually are); it’s also cheaper, which is a huge score. When on the hunt for classics, I look for older editions on Thrift Books because everyone knows vintage covers are way better than reissues. The worst is when you buy a book that has since then been adapted into a film and the cover is a Hollywood production still. There’s that old saying about how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but, come on now, everyone literally does it with books.

The book cover is the first clue as to what kind of story is told within. It needs to be treated more like conceptual advertising — more clever, more artistic, more timeless-y. Many book covers end up too sparse or lazy, not showing enough. Others are simply painful to look at. Another thing I don’t like is when the size of the author’s name trumps the title of the book they wrote; the hierarchy of information seems off-putting. I don’t think the author’s face should ever be blown up on the actual cover, unless they’re a loved and recognizable celebrity. The same goes for photos that kinda look like stock images. No. Book covers should be so visually tight that I would wanna hold onto those books so I could eventually gift them to my unborn literary children when they turn into adults.

There are some exceptional presentations though! Below, a few of my favorite book covers of the year:

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Asian Depiction: Is It Getting Better?

Hmm, I think... YES.
August 16, 2013 I'm into it.

Quickly looking over the throng of 2013 releases of novels and films with Asian protagonists, I’m beginning to think, culturally speaking, that the American media is being more thoughtful about how Asians are depicted these days. There is also an influx of emerging writers who are Asian, and they’re steadily changing the landscape of storytelling involving Asians. I like where this is going.

I used to think that the only kinds “Asian books” were ones where the characters were so super hardcore Asian that their racial challenges were the primary plot-drivers. And the Asian characters wouldn’t ever let you forget it, too. It’s as if they were saying, “Oh don’t mind my personality, I’m just acting this way because I’m sooooo Asian.” But times are changing! Stories that hearken back to the usual stereotypes of Tiger Parenting, overcoming racist bullies, and poor First Generation kid woes (which, don’t get me wrong, are still active points of contention in almost every Asian young person I know) are coming up fewer. It’s a good thing. Because then again, aren’t those so-called stereotypes true of ALL races and cultures? Classic themes time and again, I’ll say.

Earlier this year Tao Lin, who is a rockstar author at this point, released his memoir-ish Taipei where his NYC-based writer-hero Paul travels to (spoiler alert) Taipei to reconnect with his familial roots. Let’s not forget about his endless episodes of being under the influence of drugs! And really, who the fuck cares what his Asian mother would say. There’s also Don Lee’s The Collective, about the lives of three Asian-American artist-types who become friends at the decidedly alt-vibey Macalester College in the late 80s. It’s kind of like The Marriage Plot, but with Asians. Also from this year, the similar-sounding book titles of Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians (which is also a Bookmarked), both glaringly indiscreet about their books’ premise, explore the rousing intrigue of “Asian wealth” which is newer territory in terms of Far Eastern themes. The film rights to Crazy Rich Asians have already been acquired by Color Force, the production studio behind The Hunger Games franchise. Additionally, I admire authors like Gary Shteyngart (Super Sad True Love Story) and JK Rowling (the Harry Potter series, duh) who have previously written in Asians as their protagonists’ love interests in the most natural way; literary heroes have crushes on Asian chicks, so what! And them being Asian really has little to do with anything else plot-driven in the book. It’s cool shit! No one cares!

HOT.

HOT.

Over in TV land, things are also getting interesting. Funny writers Danny Chun (The Office), Alan Yang (Parks and Recreation), and Elaine Ko (Modern Family) have all inked exclusive deals with major networks. These deals come years after they wrote for characters who aren’t even Asian — maybe this means TV shows with Asian actors will also eventually get better, who knows — but most importantly, this goes to prove that it’s possible to be a successful storyteller and be an Asian. A few years ago you would have found me arguing that almost all Asian roles were objectified as nerdy, submissive, or weirdo caricatures, even if intentions may seemed meaningful at the time by way of “diversifying” the cast: Rory’s BFF Lane on Gilmore Girls, Ari Gold’s assistant Lloyd on Entourage, the not-one-but-two “token Asians” in Pitch Perfect, Ming Huang (whatta name!) on Awkward., actor Ken Jeong in anything he does — to name a few (and there are ONLY a few) — are all painfully meh to me.

Not so hot.

Not so hot.

Yeah, there’s still a lot of work to do. Can’t Asian actors be granted normal roles? I think almost every “white role” on TV and movies could easily be replaced by an Asian performer since race rarely matters to the actual plot of most stories. Mindy Kaling, who in my book is one of the best comedy goddesses both onscreen and behind-the-scenes at the moment, embodies the most magical kind of trajectory, that it is possible to have a career where you can simply be a comedian or a writer and not have to be labeled an Asian-American while you’re at it. (I’m probably glossing over a handful of other rising TV writers, screenwriters, and performers of Asian descent here but you get the idea.)

Though The Bling Ring is one of the year’s most mixed-reviewed flicks of the year, I’m still in love with the fact that the titular group’s mastermind was this wildly influential, manipulative, and insouciant Asian girl who rounded up a group of badass teens. My other all-time favorite badass Asian chick is the infamous Hipster Grifter, whose story I’m just waiting for some film producer to adapt (seriously movie people, get on this). If more captivating stories and complex characters like these popped up on our radar, which I’m eagerly awaiting they will, I think in the near future the Asian-American experience can simply be realized as an American experience surrounding an Asian person. You know, it’s an exciting time, and I’m looking forward to what’s next.

Starting a website: Stats and the Measures of Success

Meh?
August 1, 2013 stet-pie

Hey, we are a month old now! Goo goo ga ga!

People have been asking lately, “How’s the website doing?” and I don’t really know how to respond. I’m just like, “Yeah, it’s great, it’s going well! I mean, I think it is! I don’t actually know! But I’m having fun!”

That part is true, that STET has been really fun so far. It basically gives us a reason to get free books, reach out to people we really like and get them to talk to us, and work on a nice on-going project outside of my current stale office day job. I’m also certain I’m turning into a better writer too, or that, I’m re-learning how to write better.

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Hey, I think this is me! I’m the only “active visitor” on the site right now!

But how do you measure a website’s success? If it’s based on fun factor alone, then we’re doing prett-tty, prett-ttty well. If it’s based on what other people are getting out of STET, then that is something I can’t quiiiite answer yet, although early folks have started to tell us they’re discovering interesting stories through our posts (wooo, we’re all about the STORY here!!). If it’s based on stats and numbers, then who the heck even knows. (Me, I don’t know yet.)
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Celebrity Skin

Thinking about The Bling Ring, Scientology, and Ryan O'Connell's recent e-book Sex, Drugs, and $25 Salads.
July 9, 2013 Stet-Hollywood

A few weeks ago I found myself cruising down Sunset Boulevard in a rented Toyota Corolla while on vacation in Los Angeles with my boyfriend, faraway from our little apartment in Brooklyn. From the passenger seat he spotted the gigantic Scientology compound and started taking pictures on his cell phone.

“COME IN TODAY,” its huge LED screen beckoned.

A week or so before my trip I finished reading Lawrence Wright’s incredibly thorough Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief and was feeling perplexed about how an organization so full of corruption and, uh, human rights violations continued to reign powerfully in public view. It seemed nuts. However, driving past the gaudy Scientology building that day I was struck by one crucial element of L. Ron Hubbard’s foresight—he knew before most people that celebrities were soon to be the most influential beings in our culture and he sought them directly when establishing his movement. It’s true; if I’ve learned anything from watching those man-on-the-street type shows, more randos in Times Square can I.D. Kim and Kanye than Joe Biden any day.

We’ve known this for a while, but I think our awareness of celeb worship has boiled over recently. The arrival of our nation’s new baby princess North West blowing up on social media, Sofia Coppola’s film The Bling Ring, and Thought Catalog writer Ryan O’Connell’s recent e-book Sex, Drugs and $25 Salads: One Week at the Chateau Marmont together create a nice trifecta of the celeb obsession explosion and (for the most part) the emptiness of its aftermath.

sex drugs and $25 salads

O’Connell is no doubt one of Thought Catalog’s strongest voices—probably my favorite—and his new e-book recounts a recent visit of his to the infamous Chateau Marmont. With his bill paid for by an anonymous benefactor, O’Connell sets out for his weeklong stay with three goals—get laid, do drugs, and see Lindsay Lohan. After some funny passages (including an incident in which he tries to order weed from the front desk concierge) O’Connell starts to analyze why he’s so attracted to the LA celebrity lifestyle and dives into recounting his middle class upbringing in Ventura, California. And that’s when it started to get good for me. Nevermind the snobby hostesses at the Chateau, O’Connell’s recounting of his past and the escape that reading about the Olsen Twins and Lauren Conrad offered him revealed much more to me. At one point, he has a revelation. “There comes a time when you must grow up and start to appreciate your own life rather than covet the lives of others,” he writes. And his piece proves it—real people and their real thoughts will always be more interesting than some faux-celeb’s.

It seems that Sofia Coppola made The Bling Ring, based on real events, to comment on the state of celeb-worship. The film, in its depiction of five LA kids who take to robbing B-list celebs who are checked out enough to leave their lavish homes unlocked, plays like a fable and is quick to turn its protagonists into examples. (And if you’ve ever seen Pretty Wild, the reality show featuring one of the actual Bling Ring members, you’ll understand why.) What begins as an intoxicating peek into the luxurious lifestyle (Paris Hilton’s overstuffed closet! Orlando Bloom’s secret love notes!) ends with the discomfort akin to eating too many candy bars.

I was left to consider my own relationship to Hollywood culture, and honestly, it’s a toughy. I love watching movies and hearing funny celeb gossip. I love that pop culture is so ubiquitous that you can talk about it with anyone you meet from any part of the country; it’s like the great common denominator. But I’ve caught myself on certain days scrolling ten photos deep into Kim Kardashian’s Instagram feed (BTW, she has 9M followers) and having to stop myself, like ugh, why am I doing this? Time to read a damn book.

Soon enough the Scientology Center began to shrink in the rearview mirror. We turned up the radio and continued on down Sunset with that vague giddy feeling that comes from talking about cults and conspiracy theories. And every now and then I caught myself peeking into neighboring cars’ windows—not even realizing I was doing it at first—hoping to catch the glimpse of someone famous.

Suffocation, No Breathing!

Korean Urban Legends and the Stories We Grow Up With
July 3, 2013 stet-air-conditioner

It’s officially July and I am writing this piece in the furnace that is my bedroom and I’m miserable. I don’t fair well during the summer season; it is my absolute least favorite time of year. Having grown up around the greater NYC area my whole life, the annual returning of pungent humidity and overbearing heat in this East Coast city of thick concrete, brick, and pavement throws me back to my days as a sad and sweaty child in Queens.

I was raised by my Korean immigrant parents on the ninth floor of an insular building where I wasn’t allowed to play with the AC on for more than a few minutes at a time. At night, the AC was off limits and I was forbidden to even think about it. I was told that sleeping with an AC or a fan on at night was going to kill me because it would suck the air out of the room and suffocate me to death. (I mean, all of this feels ridiculous to write because none of it makes any sense). But I believed my parents who made it seem as though this was common knowledge. It was common knowledge to them—they grew up with this story too, a South Korean urban legend called Fan Death. It wasn’t until I was a college freshman in Boston (far from my parents) that I discovered the incredible joys of sleeping comfortably with the AC blasting arctic temperatures in my dorm room. I felt betrayed by my parents, that I was lied to and made a fool of. Up until that point, I pretty much spent 18 years buying into an absurd myth that fans and ACs were silent electronic killers. Looking back now, I should have felt so lucky that I didn’t just literally die of heat exhaustion as a young kid.

South Koreans certainly have a way of holding onto and passing down these urban legends that are so modernized and contemporary that they don’t seem out of the realm of possibility to be true. It then comes to me as no surprise why Korean filmmakers are also some of the most creative storytellers in the industry. (Incidentally enough, in Korea summertime is when the year’s scariest movies are released in theaters so that they would “chill you to the bone,” you know, seeing how AC’s are apparently null in that country.) I recall watching horrifying movies and TV shows with my mom and dad (they were on a roll with parenting) where I feared daily that I would be murdered by a Carrie-like woman with vindictive green eyes who went by the name “M” (short of murder, perhaps?), or that I would be killed by a good-looking man in a leather jacket who left chewed cigarette butts around people’s homes he was intruding in at night. Those are only two examples; I had many intense reasons to believe I wasn’t going to live to see my 10th birthday.

Just recently I was at a book reading where one of the speakers mentioned a Japanese-Korean-hybrid urban legend I’d never heard of. Referred to the Slit-Mouth Woman or the Red-Masked Woman it is the story (with variation) of a cosmetic surgery gone terribly wrong. A hopeful young woman awakes from a procedure to find her mouth cruelly slit from ear to ear. Living with this deformity now, she covers her face with a red scarf at night and approaches vulnerable men and asks them, “Do you think I’m pretty?” If they respond yes, she removes her scarf to reveal her grotesquely ripped mouth, calls them a liar and cuts their mouths similarly to hers with a scalpel—her weapon of choice—and runs away. If they respond no, she goes ahead and slits their throats. For me, this particular urban legend is far more chilling than anything else I’ve heard so far, given how the plastic surgery culture for young girls in South Korea is an epidemic. Cruel to think, but this is the kind of story I might want to pass on to my unborn daughter (and also my unborn son). On a personal level, I happen to be the only person in my family who was naturally born with monolid eyes, a trait that is typically considered “less beautiful” than the Western double-folded eyes. When I was younger I used to superficially fantasize about having huge folded eyelids like an anime cartoon. I used to Scotch tape thin pieces along my lashes to manipulate that look. Thank goodness those days are long past. At 28 years old, I proudly think of the monolid eyes that I was born with as something I can connect with, that inherently identifies me to my Asian ancestry.

For good final measure, about a week ago a brand-new Korean urban legend had been making the viral rounds. It came to my attention through this post on Kotaku, about “passengers getting drugged in taxis and then waking up minus a kidney.” At first thought it seemed so utterly ridiculous and unbelievable. But the frenzy was incredibly widespread, blowing up all over the social media networks. It made me wonder, “Why do Koreans do this to themselves? Why suffer through unnecessary paranoia and anxiety of metropolitan life? None of this is real!” But when I consider it a little deeper, I do also love it. It makes me appreciate an entire culture that voluntarily chooses to live in a world where magical realism, technological strangenesses, modern-day mythological and paranormal activity converge in a fast-moving 21st-century reality.

These stories that I—and we, in the South Korean culture—continue to grow up with are ingrained with the deepest of ongoing traditions. This is what “normal” is to them, and the numerous layers of unexplainable Korean urban legends are still explored daily and routinely without a question or mere hesitation. Over the years I’ve learned that this is not the world that I personally care to live in (and good thing I’ve outgrown that perpetual world of terror), but I’m happy to acknowledge it all the same. Me, I’ll take my summer nights with air-conditioning, thank you.

Music video week!

It's like playing jams, but for your eyes. See us in the newest from Ducktails and Darlings!
June 29, 2013 stet-duckies-blog

Ahoy, the world wide web!

I was glued to my laptop screen this week in the best way possible. The internet was blowing up with Wendy Davis and DOMA (both very inspiring), and not to be outdone, our little site STET was also born into the blogosphere! We went privately live on June 23, 2013 (which is also our dear friend Olivia’s birthday – yay!) and then we began slowly telling our friends in the days following. I feel like we just gave birth to a web baby.

And in addition to ALL of that, there were also TWO new music video premieres that you ought to check out! The first one features yours truly in a dream sequence in “Under Cover” by Ducktails, which is off my homie Matt Mondanile’s latest release The Flower Lane.


And the second music video features Maura and her band Darlings in “Extras Talk to Extras,” a really catchy diddy (and one of my personal favorite tunes) off their album Perfect Trip.


A fantastic end to a great week! See you dudes later.

Starting a website: Logo and Design

Or, rather, starting a customized Wordpress site.
June 7, 2013 stet-blog

At this moment we are pretty pretty pretty close…. I can taste it, any day now, we are going to launch officially. And by officially, I mean we’ll have our “soft launch.” It’s all new to us how to start a website (aka a customized WordPress site) so to keep things interesting, I figured I’ll blog about the entire experience as it happens.
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