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Sitdown Sunday: What cats can teach us about living - according to a philosopher

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

Image: Shutterstock/PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek

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. What happened to Mesut Özil?

Once one of the Premier League’s highest-paid players, he has ‘simply vanished’.

(The New York Times, approx 10 mins reading time)

Friends and advisers had warned Özil, the Arsenal midfielder, that there would be consequences. He would have to write off China as a market. His six million followers on Weibo, the country’s largest social network, would disappear. His fan club there — with as many as 50,000 signed-up members — would go, too. He would never play in China. He might become too toxic even for any club with Chinese owners, or sponsors eager to do business there.

2. Frozen graveyard

Many people have visited Antarctica. Not all of them have returned home.

(BBC Future/Pocket, approx 13 mins reading time)

Many bodies of scientists and explorers who perished in this harsh place are beyond reach of retrieval. Some are discovered decades or more than a century later. But many that were lost will never be found, buried so deep in ice sheets or crevasses that they will never emerge – or they are headed out towards the sea within creeping glaciers and calving ice.

3. Learning from cats

What can cats teach us about living? Philosopher John Gray explains. 

(The Guardian, approx 13 mins reading time)

Gray believes that humans turned to philosophy principally out of anxiety, looking for some tranquillity in a chaotic and frightening world, telling themselves stories that might provide the illusion of calm. Cats, he suggests, wouldn’t recognise that need because they naturally revert to equilibrium whenever they’re not hungry or threatened. If cats were to give advice, it would be for their own amusement.

4. Nerding out with David Fincher

The director of Zodiac, The Game, Se7en and the upcoming Mank talks about his process. 

(Vulture, approx 22 mins reading time)

In our house, my father believed it was quality over quantity. My dad was raised in a movie theater. His father was an abusive alcoholic, and his mother worked all the time, so he spent a lot of weekend time unmonitored watching the same Tom Mix western three times, and that was a calming and safe place for him. He was okay if I went to see Westworld or The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, but he would also say, “That’s junk.” He forgave me my trespasses, but he also took me to see Dr. Strangelove when I was 9 and 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was 7.

5. Marriage or friendship?

Should your partner take precedence over your best friend, or should it be the other way around?

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(The Atlantic, approx 20 mins reading time)

Despite these friendships’ intense devotion, there’s no clear category for them. The seemingly obvious one, “best friend,” strikes many of these committed pairs as a diminishment. Adrift in this conceptual gulf, people reach for analogies. Some liken themselves to siblings, others to romantic partners, “in the soul-inspiring way that someone being thoughtful about loving you and showing up for you is romantic,” as the Rutgers University professor Brittney Cooper describes some of her friendships in her book Eloquent Rage. 

6. White Helmets

The co-founder of the White Helmets, James Le Mesurier, fell to his death in 2019. This piece looks at the pressures placed on him beforehand. (Content note: suicide)

(The Guardian, approx 25 mins reading time)

Just before sunrise in Istanbul on 11 November 2019, a determined thumping on her iron front door stirred Emma Winberg from a brief sleep. Blurry-eyed, she grasped at the empty space in bed next to her, pulled on a pair of trousers, fumbled with a bedside lamp, then ran across the bedsit to the kitchen next door. “James wasn’t there,” she said. “And that’s when I just knew.”

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

Here’s a short story from the incredible Kazuo Ishiguro, which as featured in the New Yorker in 2001.

(The New Yorker, approx 22 mins reading time)

There was nothing I recognized, and I found myself walking forever around twisting, badly lit streets hemmed in on both sides by the little stone cottages characteristic of the area. The streets often became so narrow I could make no progress without my bag or my elbow scraping one rough wall or another. I persevered nevertheless, stumbling around in the darkness in the hope of coming upon the village square—where I could at least orient myself—or else of encountering one of the villagers. When after a while I had done neither, a weariness came over me, and I decided my best course was just to choose a cottage at random, knock on the door, and hope it would be opened by someone who remembered me.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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