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Monday 29 May 2023 Dublin: 16°C
# 7 great reads
Sitdown Sunday: The real story behind Zola
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.  

1. The vanished hikers

These Melbourne mountains have been the site of a number of disappearances. What has been happening there?

(The New York Times, approx 9 mins reading time)

More than a year later, the disappearance of the campers, Russell Hill and Carol Clay, both in their 70s, remains unsolved. Speculation has swirled. Was it a fatal run-in with illegal deer hunters? A ruse so the campers, who were not married to each other, could run away together? Around campfires, tall tales have blossomed in the absence of answers. Often, they revolve around a local recluse, known as the Button Man, who dwells in the woods near the campsite and spends his time carving buttons out of antlers.

2. Person or thing?

Inside the story of the battle to grant an elephant personhood. 

(National Geographic, approx 15 mins reading time)

We’re “arguing that Happy has the right to bodily liberty,” or freedom from imprisonment, says Steven Wise, the organization’s founder and president. He wants Happy to be moved to an accredited elephant sanctuary where she’ll be with others of her kind in a larger, more natural setting than her present acre-size enclosure where she lives alone. This is the fourth court the NhRP has argued before on Happy’s behalf. It’s the first time the New York Court of Appeals, which accepts only about 5 percent of cases submitted, has agreed to hear one relating to animal rights. “We think our arguments are very powerful,” Wise says. “But who knows?”

3. Raising a good son

How do you raise a son fit for the 21st century?

(The Observer, approx 23 mins reading time)

The slow turbulence of the #MeToo movement, with all its re-evaluations and reckonings since Harvey Weinstein was brought to account for his crimes in 2017, then the sharp and terrible shock of Sarah Everard’s murder in the spring – these events have helped adjust the way a lot of us price and make room for masculinity’s expression in society. There seems to be an urge to do things differently, to rear young men without the same certainties and biases that previously we absorbed by rote. Mine’s not the first generation of parents to be thinking about all this, and fretfully. 

4. Forgiving Jaskirat Sidhu

Jaskirat Sidhu was a truck driver who drove through a stop sign, leading to the death of 16 people. Some families chose to forgive him.

(Macleans, approx 20 mins reading time)

Many of the loved ones of other Broncos killed in the collision may never reach the place the Thomases have, and some speak of feeling an unwelcome pressure to forgive. Yet none who agreed to be interviewed for this story slammed the door on the possibility, and their reasons for withholding it are every bit as considered and heartfelt as the Thomas family’s reasons for extending it. The result, only three years on from heart-rending trauma, is a surprisingly open conversation about the limits of grief, and the usefulness of a deceptively simple-sounding word. What is forgiveness? Who does it serve? What purpose does it serve?

5. Venus


Some scientists think it’s about time we did more studies of Venus – especially because of how similar it is to Earth.

(Popular Science, approx 17 mins reading time)

If you imagine that our solar system is a cul-de-sac where Earth is our cozy home and Mars is the empty lot down the street where developers pitch a shiny future, then Venus is the haunted house a few doors down, camouflaged by an overgrown yard and drawn curtains. It’s similar to Earth in size, density, mass, composition, and gravitational pull, but at its surface, it has lead-melting temperatures of more than 850°F and air pressure equivalent to standing under half a mile of ocean water. Its magnetic field is too weak to protect it from the solar wind, it spins backward, and it has a permanent layer of heat-trapping clouds that veil its face from view.

6. Spinsters

Belfast writer Jan Carson on what she learned about spinsters and spinsterhood from Brian Moore’s book The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. 

(Jan Carson, approx 8 mins reading time)

Because I now find myself a confirmed spinster at 41. Whilst I’ve drawn the line at acquiring cats, I do live alone with my books and my wine. I lack the energy or the inclination to change this arrangement. I find it a very pleasant way to exist. However, there are still those moments when single life is an uphill slog. For example: surviving the Northern Irish wedding without a plus one, building larger pieces of flatpack furniture and consuming a whole pan loaf before it goes off – all of which are two person jobs. It’s at times like these that I turn to Northern Ireland’s Number One Spinster for guidance and encouragement. No prizes for guessing: my text for today is, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.


The film Zola hits cinemas this weekend – probably the first film based on a tweet. It’s the story of two strippers who go on a wild and disturbing road trip. Here’s an interview with the real woman behind the tweet thread, A’ziah ‘Zola’ Wells.

(Rolling Stone, approx 24 mins reading time)

As outrageous as #TheStory seems, many of the details line up, though a few key points don’t. Jessica insists she has never prostituted herself, and says that Zola was the one who wanted to turn tricks in Florida. Zola admits to embellishing some of the more sensational details — Jarrett’s suicide attempt, Z shooting the pimp — for entertainment value, but denies the allegation that she sold sex for money on the trip. When she posted the story on Twitter, she was caught up in the moment, she explains, riffing on the reactions of her followers who were responding in real time. She had posted and removed the story twice before and no one cared. To garner more interest this time, she made it darkly funny while preserving the gist of what happened. And she has no regrets. 

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday

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