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Sitdown Sunday: How the Queen's Gambit mirrors its creator's 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 islands poisoned by a carcinogenic pesticide

People living on the island of Martinique say they’ve become victims to a toxic pesticide that has poisoned the soil and water, and is linked to prostate cancer. 

(BBC, approx 7 mins reading time)

“They used to tell us: don’t eat or drink anything while you’re putting it down,” Ambroise, now 70, remembers. But that’s the only clue he and other workers in Martinique’s banana plantations in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s had about the possible danger. Few if any were told to wear gloves or masks. Now, many have suffered cancer and other illnesses.

2. David Fincher and Mank

The director of Se7en and Zodiac (amongst many others) speaks about Mank, the film he’s been waiting his entire career to make.

(New York Times, approx 29 mins reading time)

No living director surpasses Fincher’s reputation for exactitude. Any account of his methods invariably mentions how many takes he likes to shoot, which can annoy him, not because this is inaccurate but because it abets a vision of him as a dictatorially fussy artiste. Fincher, who is 58, argues that this caricature misses the point: If you want to build worlds as engrossing as those he seeks to construct, then you need actors to push their performances into zones of fecund uncertainty, to shed all traces of what he calls “presentation.” And then you need them to give you options, all while hitting the exact same marks (which goes for the camera operators too) to ensure there will be no continuity errors when you cut the scene together. 

3. Solnit on Trump

The great Rebecca Solnit writes about Donald Trump and whether Democrats can act like they won the US presidential election. 

(Lit Hub, approx 10 mins reading time)

There’s also often a devil’s bargain buried in all this, that you flatter and, yeah, respect these white people who think this country is theirs by throwing other people under the bus—by disrespecting immigrants and queer people and feminists and their rights and views. And you reinforce that constituency’s sense that they matter more than other people when you pander like this, and pretty much all the problems we’ve faced over the past four years, to say nothing of the last five hundred, come from this sense of white people being more important than nonwhites, Christians than non-Christians, native-born than immigrant, male than female, straight than queer, cis-gender than trans.

4. Romany Traveller life

A Romany Traveller, Morris, talks about life for him in lockdown in a small Dorset village.

(19 Silver Linings, approx 12 mins reading time)

When I was a young boy I travelled a lot. I’d stay in one place a week. Now I miss the travelling. Not like when it comes to the winter – there’s a lot of difference then – but in the summertime I loved it. Travelling the road, the horse and wagon and all that. Like when you get the bundles of wood on your back and you had to walk two or three fields to get it and bring it back. It was a bit hard, the life. Any Traveller who you talk to, the old ones, they will tell you, it wasn’t easy, it was hard.

5. Inside the cutthroat gray market for N95 masks

The global pandemic has turned a mask into a commodity with a lot of power.

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(New York Times, approx 30 mins reading time)

Baystate Health had been forced to turn to unproven entrepreneurs like this after the corporate distributor it had once depended on ran out of N95s, when national and international supply chains collapsed at the beginning of the pandemic. Their predicament wasn’t unique. Many hospitals, states and even federal agencies were also desperate, transforming the normally staid market for health care commodities into a Darwinian competition of all against all

6. The man who brought The Queen’s Gambit to life

Have you been watching this great series on Netflix? Here’s the story behind it.

(The Ringer, approx 15 mins reading time)

Beth Harmon’s fictional life mirrors Tevis’s own. She grows up in an orphanage, where at the age of 8 she learns the game of chess from a janitor. She becomes addicted to tranquilizers given to her and the other children in order to keep them calm and subdued. The young Tevis was drugged in the convalescent home three times daily with phenobarbital. “I loved it,” he said of the drug. “That may be one reason I became a drunk.”

…AND A CLASSIC FROM THE ARCHIVES…

Here’s a longread from June about the Salisbury poisoning case, and Russian spies.

(The Guardian, approx 21 mins reading time)

GRU officers earned their spurs in the Soviet “near abroad” – in Tajikistan, Moldova or Ukraine, where there were few cameras to worry about, and not much of a CIA or other American presence. Western Europe was different. Britain, in particular, was a counter-intelligence challenge. The UK had CCTV on every public corner – in railway stations, hotel lobbies and airports. Any passengers arriving on a flight from Moscow would be logged and filmed. A port-of-entry database was available to western security agencies.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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