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Sitdown Sunday: Sally Rooney is Irish

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.
Sep 12th 2021, 9:00 AM 25,804 6

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. 9/11 Mastermind

The capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

(BBC, approx 8 mins reading time)

Pellegrino’s suspicions of KSM’s role would be proven right when a key al-Qaeda figure in custody identified him. “Everybody realised it was Frank’s guy that did it,” Pellegrino recalls. “When we found out he was the guy, there was nobody more miserable than me.”

2. Sally Rooney is Irish

Rooney’s work has universal appeal for a reason, but it retains particulars.

(Gawker, approx 12 mins reading time)

Popular confusion around Marianne is not the only time I have felt a disconnect with the Anglo-American readings of Rooney’s books. Many reviewers note, some with contempt, the way that her characters fling around fashionably leftish political labels: In The Point, Rothfeld sees Normal People and Conversations not as “political novels but novels with characters who are lightly politicized,” the outcome one of unchallenging novels which serve, as she argues in a separate essay in the journal Liberties, “to make us feel proud that we share [their] ethical assumptions.” There is a sense that in Rooney’s work political labels are floating around, not going anywhere, interpreted as “‘sanctimony”: Marx-ish words that signal to readers that these romance novels they read are part of something bigger, something political. This reading might help in explaining the global popularity of the novels, but such uncommittedness indeed has an air of Irishness about it.

3. Death of a Storyteller

An obituary for Michael K. Williams.

(Vulture, approx 17 mins reading time)

Williams believed he’d been called to the arts to tell his own story and the story of his community, and he believed in the force of his talent and work ethic to guide his choices in a white-dominated industry. He often played roles that let him mine his experiences with poverty, racism, colorism, addiction, and the entertainment industry’s lack of imagination in casting. Filmmakers and casting directors tended to look at his headshots and assume that a tall dark man with a long vertical scar on his face was best utilized in particular roles and no others. 

4. Chop Suey

An oral history of System of a Down’s classic. 

(Vulture, approx 24 mins reading time)

Such is the legacy of System of a Down, whose breakthrough record Toxicity celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. Produced by Rubin and containing their biggest singles, Toxicity was the delivery system ferrying System of a Down’s agitprop thrash to radio stations and crowds across America, turning them into unlikely superstars. It also bears the distinction of being the No. 1 album in America on the day of the September 11 attacks — an association the band wouldn’t escape in the following weeks, as its songs were banned on radio and its members were racially profiled on tour. In a rebuke of the post-tragedy jingoism sweeping the country, its frontman wrote a blistering open letter decrying the drums of war already beating within our government. Twenty years later, with the American military embroiled in a disastrous retreat from Afghanistan, Tankian’s warnings feel unmistakably prescient. “I’ve always spoken truth to power,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a naïve thing, but I say what’s on my mind.”

5. Tourette’s

Hundreds of young people are displaying strikingly similar tic-like behaviours. But is it Tourette’s?

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(Wired, approx 9 mins reading time)

Not only were the tics complex in nature, involving several muscle groups, even more bizarrely the symptoms of each patient bore a striking resemblance to one another. “The symptoms were identical. Not only similar, but identical,” she says. Although all had been formally diagnosed with Tourette’s by other physicians, Müller-Vahl, who has been working with patients with Tourette’s syndrome for 25 years, was certain it was something else entirely. Then a student came forward who knew where she had seen those tics before.

6. The Pastor

How the divisive TB Joshua built a global following. 

(The Guardian, approx 22 mins reading time)

When Giles Hurst first heard the news of Joshua’s death, his first feeling was elation. “I remember thinking: ‘This was what VE Day must have felt like,’” he told me on the phone from his home in southern India. “I thought: It’s over. Justice is done. He’s not got away with it.” I told Hurst I was thinking the opposite – he did get away with it, didn’t he? “In this life,” Hurst added. “But I believe he’ll have to answer to God.” 

7. Afghanistan 

Some of Afghanistan’s most skilled and educated citizens have been forced to flee, while those who remain can no longer be who they are.

(The Atlantic, approx 6 mins reading time)

The situation doesn’t look promising. Although the Taliban has attempted to portray itself as a more moderate reincarnation of its previous self, it hasn’t renounced its old ways completely. There have already been reports of the Taliban segregating classrooms at Kabul University by gender (a move that could result in the de facto end of women’s education), persecuting ethnic minorities, and hunting down targets whom the group had previously said would be granted amnesty.
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Cónal Thomas

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