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Dublin: 9°C Thursday 24 September 2020

Sitdown Sunday: 7 deadly reads

The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

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.

1. How to hack OKCupid

Kevin Poulsen introduces us to a maths genius who hacked OKCupid to find true love. Did it work?

(Wired – approx 14 minutes reading time, 2873 words)

To find the survey answers, he had to do a bit of extra sleuthing. OkCupid lets users see the responses of others, but only to questions they’ve answered themselves. McKinlay set up his bots to simply answer each question randomly—he wasn’t using the dummy profiles to attract any of the women, so the answers didn’t mat­ter—then scooped the women’s answers into a database.

2. The poster boy for snow sports

Maddy Savage writes about the story of Philip Boit and Bjorn Daehlie, cross-country skiers who should have had nothing in common – Daehlie was a Norwegian icon while Boit came from snow-free Kenya – but bonded.

(BBC – approx 6 minutes reading time, 1318 words)

Boit was born into a farming family in Eldoret in western Kenya, home to some of the world’s fastest runners, but when the sportswear company Nike came looking for a runner prepared to to train as a cross-country skier, the 26-year-old stepped forward. “It was a bit challenging at first because I had never experienced cold weather like that in my life,” he says, remembering his first trip to Finland, where he went to train.


Thora Birch. Pic: Walter Weissman/Starmax/EMPICS Entertainment

3. What happened to Thora Birch?

Hadley Freeman meets Thora Birch, once a rising star who featured in the likes of Ghost World and American Beauty. So what made her disappear from Hollywood?

(The Guardian – approx 7 minutes reading time, 1586 words)

Did she struggle with the glamour that her industry demanded of her as she transitioned from being a child star? She pauses for a full minute. “I struggled with reconciling that there was a reason for all that. I found it distasteful. So yeah, I had that kind of ‘oh, piss off, everyone’ attitude.”

4. Coming out as transgender

Oliver Bendorf started taking testosterone a year ago. This past Christmas, he journeyed home to Iowa for the first time since transitioning from female to male. Here’s his story.

(Buzzfeed – approx 6 minutes reading time, 1335 words)

When someone dies, it is considered polite to say that person has “passed away.” When a trans person is able to walk down the street without being identified as trans, it’s called “passing.” Both turns of the word imply a successful transition… of the spirit and body, breaking away from each other, and coming back together again. I’m talking to my teacher, Lynda Barry, about my transition on a recent afternoon and she asks me, “Do you feel like you died?” I hem and haw for a minute and she says, “But see, you can’t say no.”


Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl pictured while kidnapped. Pic: AP Photo

5. The last days of Daniel Pearl

Asra Q Nomani was a close friend of Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded in 20o2. Here, she writes about the Daniel she knew, what happened after he was kidnapped, and what it was like to meet the man who said he had killed him.

(The Washingtonian – approx 37 minutes reading time, 7542 words)

We couldn’t have known that Pakistani militants would kidnap Danny. That they would keep him for days and then release strange and confusing ransom notes alternately identifying him as a CIA operative and a reporter and showing photos of him in a striped tracksuit, bound and with his head bowed beneath the barrel of a gun. Not in our worst nightmares could we have imagined what happened after that.

6. Swingers

Swingers was a 1996 indie film that launched the careers of Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, but it was tough to get the final product made. It bombed at the box office, but went on to become a cult hit. Here’s its story, in the words of those who were there.

(Grantland – approx 58 minutes reading time, 11781 words)

I wrote the screenplay in about a week and a half. The writing process wasn’t filled with any sort of turmoil. If you really do the math, it’s 10 days, 10 pages a day. It’s not like you’re chained to the computer. I was just entertaining myself and really enjoying it, sort of giggling at it as I was writing it. I couldn’t wait to share it with my friends more as, like, doodles in the notebook than saying, “Hey, here’s my big movie”



File: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Graham Hughes

McCandish Phillips was a talented writer and journalist with the Times, writes Ken Auletta, a man who never drank, smoked or cursed, and who kept a Bible on his desk. He was fiercely admired, but after 21 years he quit – for God.

(KenAuletta.com– approx 26 minutes reading time, 5327 words)

What remained unchanged was the ready smile, the somewhat gawky manner, the sweetness. And, for the contingent from theTimes, memories of a legendary journalist more interested in the truth and texture of a story than in scoring a scoop. And a question: Why did a man with so much talent walk away from it?

Interested in longreads during the week? Look out for Catch-Up Wednesday every Wednesday evening.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday >

The Sports Pages – the best sports writing collected every week by TheScore.ie >

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