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7 great reads

Sitdown Sunday: Saving the Afghan man who saved my life

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 spine collector

A mysterious person is trying to get their hands on proofs of unpublished books by famous authors. Who is it?

(Vulture, approx 32 mins reading time)

The translators working on one of Dan Brown’s follow-ups to The Da Vinci Code, for instance, were required to work in a basement with security guards clocking trips to the bathroom. Norstedts decided to try sharing the new “Millennium” book via Hushmail, an encrypted-email service, with passwords delivered separately by phone. Everyone would have to sign an NDA. The unusual email came from Francesca Varotto, the book’s Italian-edition editor, and arrived shortly after Norstedts sent out the manuscript.

2. Hot planet

In a week where we have been grappling with the aftermath of the IPCC report on global warming, here’s a fairly worrying piece about how much the planet is heating up.

(New York Magazine, approx 33 mins reading time)

The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions before the one we are living through now, each so complete a slate-wiping of the evolutionary record it functioned as a resetting of the planetary clock, and many climate scientists will tell you they are the best analog for the ecological future we are diving headlong into. Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high-school textbooks that these extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change produced by greenhouse gas.

3. Life without tourists

A visit to Cook Island, where people were really enjoying life without tourists during Covid time.

(The Guardian, approx 10 mins reading time)

“One minute we locals were marvelling how wonderful it was to have our island back, despite many of us losing income from tourist related activities, such as the weddings I did as a celebrant,” she says. “We talk amongst ourselves about how tourism has gone right back to what it was, uncontrolled and that constant push for more and more. I really fear for our island because it is undergoing critical environmental damage from which it may never heal again.”

4. Escape from Kabul 

David Rohde was helped by Tahir Luddin when they were kidnapped by the Taliban. Now David is trying to help Tahir and his family escape Kabul.

(The New Yorker, approx 11 mins reading time)

Twelve years ago, Tahir, an Afghan driver named Asad Mangal, and I were kidnapped by the Taliban after one of their commanders invited me to an interview outside Kabul. Our captors moved us from house to house and eventually brought us into the remote tribal areas of Pakistan, where the Taliban enjoyed a safe haven. Our guards told Tahir how eager they were to execute him and the many ways that they would mutilate his body. They treated me far better and demanded that the Times, my employer at the time, pay millions of dollars in ransom and secure the release of prisoners from Guantánamo. We were held all together, in the same room, and Tahir and I spent hours talking, regretting the anguish that we were causing our families.

5. Back from extinction

Can we bring back animals from extinction by freezing their cells to preserve their genes?

(Wired, approx 20 mins reading time)

By transferring his skills from horses to endangered species, Matson is planning to build the biggest biobank of animal cells in Europe. Nature’s SAFE, a charity which he founded in December 2020, aims to collect 50 million genetic samples and “freeze them in time”, storing cells from critically endangered species including the Amur leopard, black rhino and mountain chicken frog in cryogenic tanks. Working with partners including Chester Zoo, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, and researchers at the University of Oxford, his idea is to harvest and preserve samples of semen – as well as ova and other tissue – that could one day be used to regenerate dwindling animal populations and prevent them from going extinct.

6. Spellings

English spellings can be tricksy – strange and unpredictable. Here’s a look at why.

(Aeon, approx 15 mins reading time)

English spelling is ridiculous. Sew and new don’t rhyme. Kernel and colonel do. When you see an ough, you might need to read it out as ‘aw’ (thought), ‘ow’ (drought), ‘uff’ (tough), ‘off’ (cough), ‘oo’ (through), or ‘oh’ (though). The ea vowel is usually pronounced ‘ee’ (weakpleasesealbeam) but can also be ‘eh’ (breadheadwealthfeather). Those two options cover most of it – except for a handful of cases, where it’s ‘ay’ (breaksteakgreat). Oh wait, one more… there’s earth. No wait, there’s also heart.


From 2015: Julie Sedivy’s father died. This led to her to where she was born, the Czech Republic, and to learning more about her ‘native tongue’.

(Nautilus, approx 17 mins reading time)

While my father was still alive, I was, like most young people, more intent on hurtling myself into my future than on tending my ancestral roots—and that included speaking the language of my new country rather than my old one. The incentives for adopting the culturally dominant language are undeniable. Proficiency offers clear financial rewards, resulting in wage increases of 15 percent for immigrants who achieve it relative to those who don’t, according to economist Barry Chiswick. A child, who rarely calculates the return on investment for her linguistic efforts, feels the currency of the dominant language in other ways: the approval of teachers and the acceptance of peers. I was mortally offended when my first-grade teacher asked me on the first day of school if I knew “a little English”—“I don’t know a little English,” was my indignant and heavily accented retort. “I know a lot of English.”

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday

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