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A bird's eye view of some of the estimated 600,000 music fans who turned up for the Watkins Glen Summer Jam in 1973. Alamy Stock Photo
7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: The unsolved case of two teenagers who left for a concert and never came home

Settle down in a comfy chair 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 New York Times bestsellers list

Have you ever wondered how authors land a coveted top spot on the prestigious list? Katherine Laidlaw finds out. 

(The Hustle, approx 9 mins reading time)

Behind the list is another list, one curated to include books projected by publishers, booksellers, and editors to be bestsellers, according to Laura B. McGrath, assistant professor of English at Temple University. How to make it onto that list is a mystery. “The New York Times only tracks the data for those pre-selected books, not for all books that get published. So the curatorial process is itself pretty dramatic,” McGrath says.  Publishers lobby hard to get their books in front of the editors who curate that list. Booksellers, who want to move copies, also push for titles they think will be promising. From there, sales of those books at a secretive list of shops across the country — tens of thousands of stores, according to the company — are examined by three Times staffers. And that data is what makes up the list, which has run every week in the paper since 1931. “Sometimes before a book has even sold a copy, it’s deemed a bestseller, just by virtue of the expectations that are placed on it,” McGrath says. Those expectations have, for decades, favored white authors — so heavily that Essence magazine created its own parallel bestseller lists that drew data from only Black-owned bookstores to reflect what Black Americans were reading.

2. Rebuilding Maui

maui-hawaii-usa-10th-aug-2023-an-aerial-photo-shows-destroyed-buildings-and-burned-trees-from-the-wildfire-the-death-toll-from-the-fast-moving-wildfires-from-hawaii-has-increased-to-36-people-m An aerial photo taken in August shows destroyed buildings and burned trees from the wildfire in Maui. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Carolyn Kormann writes about the aftermath of the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than a century, and how the community there are trying to rebuild despite the government’s mishandled disaster response that is now being investigated.

(The New Yorker, approx 29 mins reading time)

The destruction may have been unprecedented, but the fire itself was not. Public-safety officials, scientists, and activists had warned for years of the wildfire risks in Maui, owing to the growing population and the dryness of the island. “It was a ticking time bomb,” Willy Carter, a conservationist who studies native Hawaiian ecosystems, said. “The bomb went off.” Weeks before the disaster, conditions in parts of the state had been categorized as “severe drought,” and on August 4th the National Weather Service warned of hazardous fire conditions in the coming days. With a high-pressure system north of Hawaii and Hurricane Dora spinning hundreds of miles to the south, forecasters predicted that strong winds would be blowing, allowing flames to spread fast.

3. Living under siege

Note: This story includes graphic descriptions of war.

Zarlasht Halaimzai gives a chilling and vivid account of living in conflict as a child in Afghanistan in 1992. 

(The Guardian, approx 16 mins reading time)

Instead of reading, which I loved to do, I learned other lessons. Like how perverse hope can be, when you’re crouching in the corner of a room waiting for a bomb to fall and kill you and your family. Hope in those moments when you’re waiting to be killed is dreadful. The belief in our own survival is so deep that even when confronted with a bomb, there is a small part of you that always keeps space for hope. But it feels like a trickster, a game of Russian roulette – you weren’t killed this time but someone you know was. Hope in those moments weaves confusion into your body, so that for years to come you find it hard to trust anything – including yourself.

I remember, in those moments when the rockets started, the dialogue that would play in my mind. There is the sound of a rocket being fired. Will it come for me? Will it tear my body apart? Could I live without a leg or an arm? Will I want to if I can’t climb the almond tree in our garden? Will I see the killing of my sister or brother? I hope I die first. If it’s a choice between watching those I love the most dying or being killed – I choose the latter. That would be mercy. When I was done bargaining, I would pray. I would twist my body into a posture I thought conveyed reverence and I would pray. My grandmother had taught me the prayers required for different times, like Ayatul Kursi for protection – I didn’t know all of it, just a few lines, and I would say them over and over again.

4. Sick of swiping right

online-dating-app-in-mobile-phone-like-or-swipe-to-match-single-man-looking-for-love-and-relationship-with-smartphone-woman-with-beautiful-profile Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

An interesting piece about how more and more people appear to be falling out of love with dating apps and looking for new ways to meet people. 

(The Guardian, approx 11 mins reading time)

Dating apps, often referred to as simply “the apps”, have become such a ubiquitous part of the modern dating scene that it can be difficult to remember how connections were made before they popped up in the early 2010s. Having evolved out of desktop dating sites like eHarmony and, which were perhaps unfairly characterised as lonely hearts services for people struggling to make acquaintances in real life, the likes of Tinder, Grindr, Bumble and Hinge have become, for some, the only way to meet people. But the sand appears to be shifting once again. More than a decade on, users are abandoning their profiles in search of a better way of meeting like‑minded people. The most up-to-date figures show the world’s most popular dating app, Tinder, saw its users drop by 5% in 2021, while shares in both Bumble and Match Group, which owns Tinder, have declined steadily over the last couple of years.

5. 50 years missing

In 1973, teenagers Mitchel Weiser and Bonnie Bickwit left home to hitchhike to the Summer Jam concert in New York. They were never heard from again. Today, their families and friends want a task force to be set up to find out what happened to them.

(Rolling Stone, approx 25 mins reading time)

Missing persons experts say that the case’s 50th anniversary presents an extraordinary opportunity to engage the public — particularly anyone who attended Summer Jam — to search their memories, look at photos of Mitchel and Bonnie, and try to recall any new information. “The hope is that this is going to trigger a memory, a nugget of information that nobody was aware of before,” says Leemie Kahng-Sofer, director of the Missing Children Division for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “That could help break the case wide open.”

“This case is unique,” adds Marissa Jones, founder and host of The Vanished podcast, who has reported on 400 missing-persons cases. “There is a huge concert with people coming from all over. There’s hitchhiking. It’s a tough case to establish a firm timeline — we don’t know if they even made it to the concert or at what point. It’s a tough one to pull apart.” The case is exacerbated by law enforcement’s initial bungling in 1973. Police investigators in three New York counties originally ignored pleas by Mitchel’s and Bonnie’s parents to investigate, dismissing the teens as two hippie runaways. “There was never really an investigation,“ claims Bonnie’s older sister Sheryl Kagen.

6. Now and Then

the-beatles-pop-group-left-to-right-paul-mccartney-john-lennon-ringo-starr-and-george-harrison The Beatles. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Renowned director Peter Jackson speaks about creating the music video for The Beatles’ final song, which was released this week. 

(Esquire, approx 11 mins reading time)

After we developed this software that could separate tracks, I got a call from Paul. He said, “We’ve got this other demo of John’s we’ve been wanting to finish for years, but it’s always been hard because the piano’s too loud, there’s a buzz on it.” He said, “We abandoned it, but I’m really keen to try to do it. Do you think the software you used for Get Back could help?” I said, “Yeah, of course!” Considering the complexity we did on Get Back, where we were separating Ringo’s drums, just to split John’s voice from the piano and the buzz is a fairly simple thing. So, I just said, “Yes, send it down and we’ll stick it through the software.” And when it showed up, we got a pretty clean track. We sent it back to Paul. Two months went by, then in August or September of last year, they sent me the mix that Paul and Ringo had worked on with [producer] Giles Martin. So, I’ve had a weird experience where it’s felt like I’ve had a brand-new Beatles song all for me for an entire year. I’ve been playing it over and over for a year and no one else has heard it.


This article from 2019 looks at the secret history of women in coding, and what caused the gender imbalance that we see today in an industry that was pioneered by women. 

(The New York Times Magazine, approx 45 mins reading time)

After the war, as coding jobs spread from the military into the private sector, women remained in the coding vanguard, doing some of the highest-profile work. The pioneering programmer Grace Hopper is frequently credited with creating the first “compiler,” a program that lets users create programming languages that more closely resemble regular written words: A coder could thus write the English-like code, and the compiler would do the hard work of turning it into ones and zeros for the computer. Hopper also developed the “Flowmatic” language for nontechnical businesspeople. Later, she advised the team that created the Cobol language, which became widely used by corporations. Another programmer from the team, Jean E. Sammet, continued to be influential in the language’s development for decades. Fran Allen was so expert in optimizing Fortran, a popular language for performing scientific calculations, that she became the first female IBM fellow.

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