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Dublin: 6 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019

Sitdown Sunday: The journalist who messed with the wrong small town

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.

Germany: Claas Relotius, top journalist of German magazine Der Spiegel resigns over fake interviews Source: Darmer/Davids/Ropi

1. Facing trial for 36 deaths

Max Harris lived at a ‘utopian’ artist’s warehouse, but now finds himself on trial over the deaths of 36 people in a fire at the building. This fascinating, in-depth article is a must-read.

(New York Times, approx 56 mins reading time)

In the heavy months awaiting trial, Harris has been trying to hang on to his gentleness. He has been trying to grow his compassion, so that something, anything, positive might come of all this grief. He studies Zen Buddhism. He keeps the Jewish Sabbath. He prays to his Christian God. He switches the TV from Fox News or football to Animal Planet when the other inmates, who tell him he’s like a butterfly, can tolerate it. 

2. How I recovered

A group of people speak about how they recovered from life-changing experiences – like mental ill health, serious illness, debt and addiction.

(The Guardian, approx 20 mins reading time)

Recovery suggests that you can get back to where you were before, which is to say, back to your old self, your well self, your whole, unwounded self. As such, it is a dark word, as well as a magical one. It is the mythical tree in the fairytale forest that has the power to protect you, or crush you. Recovery is teamed with the verb “to recover”, and to recover means to retrieve your former self, to find what you have lost.

3. Milkman 

There has been a lot of talk about Booker Prize winning book Milkman of late – some reviews say it’s fairly impenetrable, but fans disagree. Here, Irish writer Mark O’Connell gives his views – and says that it’s an important book about a dark time in Irish history.

(Slate, approx 13 mins reading time)

And although the book’s setting is clearly Northern Ireland in the 1970s, in a city that is probably but by no means unambiguously Belfast, the names of places (neighborhoods, streets, landmarks) are similarly withheld. Neither are there any references to the Republic of Ireland or the occupying power of Britain; there are only the countries “over the border” and “over the water.”

4. How we invented Aisling

Sarah Breen (co-author with Emer McLysaght of the Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling books) writes a delightful piece about moving to the Big Smoke and how it lead to the creation of Aisling.

(Stellar, approx 5 mins reading time)

When we weren’t in college (which was often), we hung around the house in pyjamas, shared our clothes and pooled our make-up for student nights in town. We pooled our money too, using credit cards to buy bottles of cheap white wine, saying silent prayers at the checkout that the transaction would go through. It was all for one, and one for all. If you have sisters, this might sound like normal life for you, but I was living out all my Mallory Towers and St Clares fantasies. 

5. The journalist messed with the wrong small town 

News broke this week about a Der Spiegel journalist who admitted falsifying stories over a number of years. Here, one of the people in a town he wrote about writes back.

(Medium, approx mins reading time)

Perhaps the oddest fiction in a list of many is Relotius’ depiction of Bremseth as someone who “would like to marry soon…but he has not yet been in a serious relationship with a woman. He has also never been to the ocean.” We can attest that Bremseth has indeed been to the ocean, by his account, “many times” and is currently happily involved in a multi-year, cohabitational relationship with a woman named Amber. In fact, here’s a picture of the two of them in front of, all things, an ocean.

6. The Malahide Mystery

In 1926, a gardener arrived at a house in Malahide and realised something wasn’t right. Dean Ruxton tells the story of what happened next.

(Irish Times, approx 7 mins reading time)

 “It soon seemed to him that the smoke issuing from the top of the house was excessive and he made to go in at the back door,” reads a report in The Irish Times a day later, on April 1st, 1926. “He saw flames and other signs that things were not as they should be, and he set off at once for Malahide to call the fire brigade, and, on his way, told men whom he met that the house was on fire.”


After their children were killed in a shooting in Newtown, families try to move on with their lives.

(Washington Post, approx 33 mins reading time)

It hardly mattered that what Mark and his wife, Jackie, really wanted was to ignore Mother’s Day altogether, to stay in their pajamas with their two surviving children, turn off their phones and reward themselves for making it through another day with a glass of Irish whiskey neat.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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