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Welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer or editor reveals what’s keeping them entertained. Today’s special guest is Matteo Wong, an associate editor who has written about the sci-fi legend Neal Stephenson, the perfection of the rice cooker, and America’s AI underclass.

Matteo is a regular viewer of Binging With Babish, which offers fun and insightful recipes for famous fictional meals (such as the “Moistmaker” sandwich from Friends). He is also a contemplative museumgoer with a penchant for Monet’s water lilies, a dedicated reader of anything that has a Ted Chiang byline, and a superfan of Birdy, whose albums “denote different phases” of his life.

First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:


The Culture Survey: Matteo Wong

A musical artist who means a lot to me: I’ve been listening to the British singer Birdy for more than a decade. I probably know the words to each of her songs, as well as the moments when her voice will make my skin tingle. Birdy’s albums denote different phases of my life: Her first, which includes a collection of breathtaking covers, came to me when I first began choosing my own music, in middle school. Her second album was the soundtrack for the first half of high school, her third for the latter. She was on hiatus when I started college, but she released a brilliant, underrated EP, Piano Sketches (tell me this is not an angel singing), as pandemic school was in full swing; her fourth full album came out as vaccines were being widely distributed. Her most recent album, Portraits, marks a musical departure—less indie folk, more synths and drum machines—just as I’ve departed from school and begun adulthood.

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Her music connects my family as well. My father sent me her cover of “Skinny Love,” she is one of the few contemporary singers my mom appreciates, and my younger sister is Birdy’s (second) biggest fan. Fortuitous timing allowed me to bring my sister to a Birdy concert for her 14th and 15th birthdays.

An online creator that I’m a fan of: I’m an avid watcher of the cooking show Binging With Babish. The show began several years ago, with Andrew Rea, using the surname of the West Wing attorney Oliver Babish, re-creating food from television shows. It has since expanded to a Marvel-esque “Babish Culinary Universe.” The episodes are loaded with fun—cooking instructions for the “Moistmaker” from Friends, the “Eggo Extravaganza” from Stranger Things, the cola-braised short ribs from The Bear—and also with culinary insights. My mother and father primarily taught me to love cooking, but with a healthy assist from Rea’s YouTube channel.

An author I will read anything by: Ted Chiang. His fiction, which traverses so many modes and styles, challenges and expands how I understand time, sentience, and knowledge itself—“Story of Your Life” and “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” are great places to start. His essays, on topics as diverse as Chinese characters and AI, are forceful and precise. I only wish he’d write more frequently!

A poem that I return to: I frequently return to A. R. Ammons’s “Small Song.” Reading the 12-word-long poem feels like the breeze it describes is blowing through me—the doubled motion it conveys, that of giving way and giving away, is dizzying. The poem embodies a provocation that Ammons articulates in a longer work, “Corsons Inlet”: to strive, in the world as well as in one’s thoughts and emotions, for structure without rigidity; to realize that form can be fluid, and that fluidity requires, however fleeting, a form. [Related: Your favorite poems on loss]

A quiet song that I love, and a loud song that I love: Other than anything by Birdy, a quiet song I love is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Wedding Song,” which manages to be both melancholic and sweet (the acoustic version is worth a listen too). A loud(er) song that I love is Jacob Banks’s “Sink or Swim,” which I listen to when faced with a task that feels daunting.

The last museum show that I loved: Between Two Rivers, a decades-spanning survey of the Vietnamese American photographer An-My Lê’s work, at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibit features stunning photos of life and land near the eponymous river deltas, the Mekong and the Mississippi; Vietnam War reenactments; a simulated war zone used to train U.S. soldiers; and more. Lê is best known for her landscape photography, and this survey reveals how she not only captures landscapes as stages for conflict but also treats war itself as a landscape that encompasses continents and decades. The exhibit is on view through March 16, and I can’t recommend it enough.

A painting that I cherish: Two floors up, in MoMA’s permanent collection, is one of Claude Monet’s many paintings of the water lilies in his garden at Giverny. This one, a triptych of canvases that, combined, stretch more than 40 feet, captivated me when I was a small child wandering the museum with my parents, and helped inspire my love of painting today. Its texture is concrete-like up close, perhaps a product of paint catching in the extra-thick weft threads that Monet tended to use; a few steps back, the gentle, rosy reflections are trance-inducing. From across the gallery, the painting shifts and shimmers, not a photographic still so much as a superposition of many glances at the water lilies, and many days applying the paint, in one image. [Related: The beauty-happiness connection]

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Something I recently reread: The other day, I revisited Robin Coste Lewis’s multi-section poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus.” Lewis constructed the poem from titles and descriptions of Western art objects depicting or otherwise including a Black female figure, as well as titles of art made by Black women and Black queer artists. In an epilogue, Lewis writes that perhaps “titles can contain more art than the image itself,” and casts her work as a way of stealing from a colonial art history to build another one. [Related: The 15 best books of 2020]

I first encountered the poem in a college seminar, and returned to it in search of inspiration. Lewis transformed my understanding of what a poem can do—as language that doesn’t just reflect on, but directly touches and intervenes in, the physical world, the past, and the future.


The Week Ahead

  1. Dune: Part Two, the second installment of Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the acclaimed science-fiction novel (in theaters Friday)
  2. Shōgun, a limited series about an English pilot who, after being stranded in Japan in 1600, crosses paths with a powerful Japanese warlord (premieres Tuesday on FX)
  3. Wandering Stars, by Tommy Orange, a novel that traces the intergenerational impacts of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s institutional violence on one family (out Tuesday)

Essay

Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: Courtesy of KitchenAid.

KitchenAid Did It Right 87 Years Ago

By Anna Kramer

My KitchenAid stand mixer is older than I am. My dad bought the white-enameled machine 35 years ago, during a brief first marriage. The bits of batter crusted into its cracks could be from the pasta I made yesterday or from the bread he made then.

I learned to make my grandfather’s crunchy molasses gingersnaps in that stand mixer. In it, I creamed butter and sugar for the first time. Millions of stand mixers with stories like mine are scattered across the globe, sitting on counters in family homes since who knows when …

This sturdy, elegant device holds a lesson.

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Photo Album

A school bus in the Kupiansk district of Kharkiv province transports troops from the front line in February 2023.
A school bus in the Kupiansk district of Kharkiv province transports troops from the front line in February 2023. Photographs by Jędrzej Nowicki

Yesterday marked two years of the war in Ukraine. Spend time with Jędrzej Nowicki’s photo essay, with an introduction by Anne Applebaum, exploring how the war has transformed a society.

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Source: The Atlantic

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