3 min read

Friday Open Thread (with Strong Opinions)

A free-standing squeeze-bottle of Heinz Salad Cream, its contents pale, with a green label calling it "deliciously zingy."

Dear Friends,

Every now and then with a sort of tidal regularity someone on Twitter will ask for everyone's Spiciest Takes, Hottest Opinions, the Hill Upon Which You Would Die, and people (myself obviously included) will dutifully round up their grimly held views like grizzled veterans of a forever war against raisins, or mayonnaise, or soda, and we go through a sort of outsized collective unburdening of our truly disproportionate fervour about any of these things.

Mine is usually about hummus. I will explain through gritted teeth that hummus is the word for "chickpeas" in Arabic, so you cannot have "white bean hummus" or "sweet potato hummus" by combining the non-chickpea item with some tahini (or whatever else they've subbed in for that – I'm sure "white bean sunflower seed hummus with blood orange juice" is a thing someone somewhere has created and I leave you to google for it). A bunch of people will ask if flavoured hummus that actually has hummus in it is OK, someone will show me Chocolate Funfetti Hummus and its fellow travellers and I will deploy a lot of angry gifs of Aubrey Plaza wielding scissors in a threatening way.

These conversations are bits, of course – small performances, rehearsed in repetition, a sort of freeform Tag Urself by which we delineate some parts of ourselves we want known and recognized, and I think perhaps too much about what we're actually doing by polishing these small passionate shouts into cabochons to wear around our necks, but that's thoughts for another day.

I've been reminded of this just now because my husband, with characteristic irony, reserves his spiciest opinions for the blandest condiments. He has, totally unbidden, taken about 15 minutes to explain to me what Salad Cream is, how it is different from mayonnaise and also an abomination, why Greggs (a British sandwich shop) went downhill when they replaced their regular mayonnaise with a less household brand, and (in a baffling spin-off) why Fussell's Condensed Milk is the best one (I grew up with Eagle and have no opinion).

So, if you don't mind – what's a strong opinion you have about something you also consider relatively inconsequential?

Wishing you a lovely, freshly autumnal weekend,



  • I have a new column in the NYTBR online, reviewing Lincoln Michel's The Body Scout, Ryka Aoki's Light From Uncommon Stars, and Cadwell Turnbull's No Gods, No Monsters. I particularly loved Jing Wei's superb illustration accompanying it! It'll be in print on October 10.
  • The conversation I had through WOTS with Wayne Ng, Lindsay Zier-Vogel and Francesca Ekwuyasi was wonderful, and it's been recorded! If you'd like you can view it for free here!
  • Reminder that tomorrow evening (Saturday, September 25 at 6:00 PM EST), as part of the Library of Congress' National Book Festival, I'll be chatting with P. Djèlí Clark about his debut novel, A Master of Djinn! (I'm on record as having loved The Haunting of Tram Car 015, a novella set in the same universe, and am really looking forward to this.) The event is free and you can register for it here!
  • I finished reading Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo, which comes out on September 28, by staying up until 2AM last weekend. I don't know if I'm going to attempt to review it – my experience of it was of just gulping down its painful voice-forward longing and grief interspersed with gasping over Lil Nas X' "That's What I Want" video and I dissolve at the thought of today's queer youth having this mainstream and visible. Everything I want to say about these two things in conversation's a bit stuck in my throat right now, but in brief, I loved the book and recommend it.
  • Another thing that kept me up until 2AM recently was Sam Kabo Ashwell's Invisible Parties, a gorgeously written parser game I devoured room by room. The meta puzzle takes a little figuring out, but having obtained the "good" ending I find myself wanting to try all its failures and absorb all its facets. I would genuinely read a novel of these two people trying to find each other through a tangle of realities orchestrated by inscrutable powers and – uh. Well. Anyway. If you like parser games you should play it! (Don't get thirty minutes in without remembering to check inventory, which was my failing)
  • Here's a photo I took of my hummingbird mint this morning. My sister gave me this plant when it was just small green nubbins in late May, and I'm in love with its trumpeting orange glory and the way its leaves smell faintly of chocolate.
A dramatic, high-contrast photo of hummingbird mint (a tall green stem from which extend pairs of slender green leaves and long tubular orange flowers), its flowers brightly lit against a dark backdrop; sublight scattering illuminates the green of its leaves and the purple tips of the sepals from which blossoms have fallen.