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Monday 5 June 2023 Dublin: 18°C
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# sitdown sunday
Sitdown Sunday: 7 deadly reads
The very best of the week’s writing from around the web.

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. Fighting fire

Jaime Joyce looks at the prison inmates who died fighting the Dude Fire in Arizona in 1990, and the families who struggled for justice in the wake of their deaths. What motivated the men to take on the challenge – and what happened when they could fight the fire no more?  (The Big Round Table) (Approx 50 minutes reading time – 10,164 words)

The pay didn’t matter to them. Neither did the inherent risks of the job. Wildland firefighting is brutal, sometimes dangerous, work. Heart attacks and burnover—in which fire overcomes a crew, forcing them to take cover in portable fire shelters until the flames pass—are among the most common causes of death, the former brought on by extreme physical exertion. But the inmates weren’t focused on that. They considered it a privilege to fight fire, and a spot on the crew was coveted.

2. Not young

Heather Havrilesky wonders: How did I end up growing old? In an essay about the changes that time wreaks on us all, she explores a topic that everyone worries about: getting older. From the loss of her carefree old self to coping with the premature death of her father, she looks at the anxiety that age brings. (Aeon Magazine) (Approx 14 minutes reading time – 2,901 words)

Twenty-odd years later, I realise that most people feel this way so strongly that they’re hesitant to say it out loud. We can’t quite believe that we’ll grow old, too. At a certain point, we start counting the years we might have left, if we’re lucky. We become more pragmatic. We take what we can get. We don’t need big signs to tell us what we should and should not expect.

3. Fighting with wire

Clay Tarver meets Jason Everman, one-time member of seminal grunge band Nirvana and their peers Soundgarden, who has the “unique distinction” of being kicked out of both of them. But after he was thrown out of the bands, he went and did something a little unexpected – he became an elite member of the US Army Special Forces, going on to fight against the Taliban. (New York Times) (Approx 24 minutes reading time – 4,855 words)

As one of his Special Forces colleagues (who is still on active duty and requested that his name not be published) told me: “He would get moody sometimes, but it didn’t interfere with the task at hand. I would rather work with somebody who is quiet than ran their suck constantly.” In Everman’s cabin, I saw medal after medal, including the coveted Combat Infantryman Badge. “Sounds kind of Boy Scouty,” he said. “But it’s actually something cool.” I saw photos of Everman in fatigues on a warship (“an antipiracy operation in Asia”). A shot of Everman with Donald Rumsfeld. Another with Gen Stanley A McChrystal. And that’s when it hit me. Jason Everman had finally become a rock star.

4. Losing you

John Faherty brings us to the all-boys Archbishop Moeller High School, introducing us to its grief counsellers who work with students who have experienced a loss. The boys say that being able to talk about dark and personal events brings them closer, while the counselling affects more than just the students themselves. (  (Approx 41 minutes reading time – 8261 words)

Will, Chuck’s brother, talks about guilt. He remembers his father’s last weeks in October 2011. After nearly a decade of illness, his liver failure was acute. He was in hospice. “I wish I could have helped him more,” Will says. “At the end, he was always thirsty, but I couldn’t even give him water because he was on dialysis. There was a sink right next to him, but I couldn’t even give him water.”

5. Banker behaviour

John Lanchester looks at the “barely believable behaviour” of banks. Primarily focusing on the UK, he looks at the Libor scandal, the mis-sold payment protection insurance situation and “the biggest and baddest scandal of them all”. (London Review of Books)  (Approx 32 minutes reading time – 6552 words)

There’s plenty more to come: Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase, four of the biggest banks in the world, are under investigation, along with many of their peers, and the bodies pursuing them include not just the DoJ, CFTC and FSA but also a variety of US state-level attorney generals. And there may be even worse news ahead for the banks, because these settlements represent only the criminal and statutory fines levelled against them. Libor reaches so deeply into the financial system that the fact of its manipulation opens not a can but an entire universe of legal worms.

6. Wild ride

Craig Davidson tells us about an incident at the theme park he worked in in 1992, Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, before bringing us to the park two decades later. An article documenting “a horrific inventory of mistreatment” of the animals in the park, leads Davidson to meet those who worked with the animals. (The Walrus) (Approx 22 minutes reading time – 4437 words)

I followed the series with interest, as many ex-Marinelanders surely did. I had my own repertoire of stories, each with its own title: “The Tale of the Frozen Sea Lion”; “The Legend of Cinnamon, the Perpetually Buggered Bear”; “The Fable of the One-Legged Seagull.” I used to tell them to my high school and university buddies for yuks. You would be shocked at how, just by accentuating the absurdities and downplaying the implicit horrors, you can have a room of drunk, eager-to-make-nice freshmen roaring at the story of a dead sea lion knocking around a garbage-strewn truck.


In 1977, Linda Kuehl conducted an interview with the writer Joan Didion, in the living room of Didion’s house in Los Angeles. This piece sees Kuehl delve deep into the how and why Didion became a writer; and which writer she believes writes “very direct sentences, smooth rivers, clear water over granite, no sinkholes”. (Paris Review) (Approx 14 minutes reading time – 2901 words)

When I was starting to write—in the late fifties, early sixties—there was a kind of social tradition in which male novelists could operate. Hard drinkers, bad livers. Wives, wars, big fish, Africa, Paris, no second acts. A man who wrote novels had a role in the world, and he could play that role and do whatever he wanted behind it. A woman who wrote novels had no particular role. Women who wrote novels were quite often perceived as invalids. Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles. Flannery O’Connor, of course. Novels by women tended to be described, even by their publishers, as sensitive.

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