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Dublin: 6 °C Friday 24 January, 2020

Sitdown Sunday: The day we found out our parents were Russian spies

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

shutterstock_283045727 Source: Shutterstock/GrAl

1. The quest to stop a genetic killer

Sonia Vallabh lost her mother to a rare disease – so she and her husband set out to try and find a cure.

(Wired, approx 32 mins reading time)

“Her suffering was very vivid,” Sonia says. “She’d be in the hospital bed with her eyes vacant, all of her muscles jerking and contracting and clenching, with needle pricks every hour, surrounded by all of these different sorts of machines. She didn’t show any sign of recognizing us, of recognizing anything. But she could show fear. And pain.” 

2. How to make big decisions

Do we really find it easy to make big decisions, or do we just walk into them? This thoughtful piece looks at exactly that.

(The New Yorker, approx 25 mins reading time)

We say that we “decide” to get married, to have children, to live in particular cities or embark on particular careers, and in a sense this is true. But how do we actually make those choices? One of the paradoxes of life is that our big decisions are often less calculated than our small ones are. We agonize over what to stream on Netflix, then let TV shows persuade us to move to New York; buying a new laptop may involve weeks of Internet research, but the deliberations behind a life-changing breakup could consist of a few bottles of wine. 

3. Why kids become YouTubers

Young children are now finding themselves enticed by YouTube, as this article delves into. But what does that say about society today?

(Vice, approx 8 mins reading time)

What makes being a YouTuber such a cool job? “Because you can play games all day,” answers eight-year-old Spencer Parker. Five of the top ten earning YouTubers in 2018 were men who streamed themselves playing video games, and as such, thousands of young boys have a new ambition.

4. Who is Mackenzie Bezos?

The divorce of Jeff Bezos and Mackenzie Bezos hit the headlines last week. But who is Mackenzie Bezos? A look at the author’s life and career.

(New York Times, approx 11 mins reading time)

Ms. Bezos, 48, is a novelist. But Amazon has defined her public image almost wholly. The announcement this week that she and her husband would be getting a divorce may soon change that. A statement signed “Jeff & MacKenzie,” which was first posted to Mr. Bezos’s Twitter account, read: “After a period of loving exploration and trial separation, we have decided to divorce and continue our shared lives as friends.”

5. Hidden in plain sight

A town is asking itself – how did we not spot a kidnapper in our midst?

(New York Times, approx 7 mins reading time)

Overnight, Jake T. Patterson has gone from local anonymity to national infamy, accused of kidnapping a 13-year-old girl about an hour’s drive south, killing her parents and then holding the teenager captive for nearly three months. The awful crime has shattered the town’s sense of safety and forced painful questions on the 645 residents.

6. Keeping the peace

Rachel Lavin spent months researching this story on the Northern Irish border, looking into how Brexit could threaten peace there. 

(The Irish Times, approx 61 mins reading time)

From the most northerly tip of Norway down to the Black Sea, there are 120 official border crossings. Marking the boundary of Europe’s single market, customs union and the Schengen Area, crossings are marked by large physical structures, blockaded with traffic barricades and surrounded by fencing and compounds for customs checks. They are policed by state personnel checking passports, customs officials monitoring the flow of goods and security personnel guarding the entrance to their respective countries.


What would do if you found out your parents were Russian spies? It sounds like the plot of a TV series – and it is – but it’s also what happened to Tim and Alex Foley.

(The Guardian, approx 31 mins reading time)

To those who knew them, they seemed a very ordinary American family, albeit with Canadian roots and a penchant for foreign travel. Both brothers were fascinated by Asia, a favoured holiday destination, and the parents encouraged their sons to be inquisitive about the world: Alex was only 16, but had just returned from a six-month student exchange in Singapore.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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