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Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel on Friday. Alamy Stock Photo
7 deadly reads

Sitdown Sunday: A diary of Gaza during war, as told by Palestine's minister of culture

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. ‘I’m still alive. Gaza is no longer Gaza.’

Atef Abu Saif has been the minister of culture for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank since 2019.

He was visiting family in Gaza when the 7 October attacks by Hamas were met with unrelenting bombardment by Israel.

Here, he documents a three-week period from 7 October, a period in which around 7,000 Gazans, including his wife’s sister, were killed.

(The Washington Post, approx 33 mins reading time)

Who could have the courage to tell Hanna, so far away in Ramallah, that her only sister had been killed? That her family had been killed? I phoned my colleague Manar and asked her to go to our house with a couple of friends and try to delay the news from getting to her. “Lie to her,” I told Manar. “Say the building was attacked by F-16s but the neighbors think Huda and Hatem were out at the time. Any lie that could help.” In the morning, I rejoined the search for bodies. The building was, as T.S. Eliot would say, “a heap of broken images.” We searchers picked through the ruins under the cricket-like hum of drones we couldn’t see in the sky.

2. The Golden Gate Bridge

san-francisco-29th-oct-2023-this-photo-taken-on-oct-29-2023-shows-the-golden-gate-bridge-at-dusk-in-san-francisco-the-united-states-credit-li-jianguoxinhuaalamy-live-news Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Around 2,000 people are known to have died by jumping off the San Francisco bridge. After years of campaigning by their families, workers are almost finished installing $217 million-worth of stainless steel nets. But what took so long?

(The New York Times, approx 13 mins reading time)

The Bridge Rail Foundation organized other families in a common effort. It wrote op-eds and monthly newsletters. It made short films to spread on social media. It created a traveling exhibit of hundreds of shoes worn by the jumpers, including World War I-era boots to represent Wobber, who died by the bridge’s first known suicide.  Mostly, the group focused not on cold data, but on the warmth of humanity and empathy. “In the beginning, researchers felt that empirical evidence was strong enough that, naturally, it’s going to convince anybody to erect a barrier,” said Bateson, the author. “And, in fact, the emotion was missing from those early arguments.” Growing numbers of families joined the fight. They crowded meetings. They held photographs of their lost loved ones. They carried the little bag of belongings returned by the coroner — phones, wallets and notes that had been discovered in pockets, left on the rail, found in abandoned cars. In 2005, finally moved, the bridge board agreed to build a barrier if the money came from outside sources. So began the slow churn of American bureaucracy.

3. The Club No School Principal Wants to Join

This article takes us inside a support network for US school principals who have experienced gun violence.

This includes current and retired leaders of Columbine and Sandy Hook.

Colleagues-turned-close friends create a space to lean on each time a new school shooting opens up the collective wound.

(Men’s Health, approx 24 mins reading time)

One by one, the principals shared. When Johnson confessed that more than two years after the shooting at West Liberty-Salem he still wrestled with doubts about his ability to support his students and staff, he was relieved to see heads nodding. Thompson was struck by how immediately these strangers felt safe with one another, how some group members unloaded like it was therapy. They talked about the loss of young lives that haunted them, the guilt they felt as survivors, and how they questioned what they could have done differently. Someone asked: What are you doing for self-care? Silence. Then Johnson spoke up: “Who has time for self-care?” More heads nodded.

4. Ridley Scott

usa-joaquin-phoenix-and-ridley-scott-on-the-set-of-the-ccolumbia-pictures-new-film-napoleon-2023-plot-the-film-takes-a-personal-look-at-napoleon-bonapartes-origins-and-his-swift-ruthless Joaquin Phoenix and Ridley Scott on the set of his new film Napoleon. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

A fascinating profile of the unclassifiable director behind Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, who speaks about his upcoming epic film on Napoleon. 

(The New Yorker, approx 35 mins reading time)

To play the role of Waterloo, Scott’s team scouted dozens of fields in England—“tromping around in Wellington boots in muddy fields, avoiding cowpats,” Max recalled—before settling on a farm in Berkshire. The production set up a “war room” in Brentford, a London suburb, with three-dimensional models of the terrain. Biddiss, the ex-paratrooper, ran five hundred extras through “boot camp” at the Cavalry Barracks in Hounslow, which were built in Napoleon’s era. He assessed the extras to make sure they were “physically and mentally robust” and put the best three hundred up front. (C.G.I. multiplied them into the thousands.) Biddiss had studied old military manuals and showed the extras how the French and the English loaded their muskets in different ways. Scott is less of a stickler. When the trailer came out, the TV historian Dan Snow posted a TikTok breakdown of its inaccuracies. (At the Battle of the Pyramids, “Napoleon didn’t shoot at the pyramids”; Marie-Antoinette “famously had very cropped hair for the execution, and, hey, Napoleon wasn’t there.”) Scott’s response: “Get a life.”

5. The last lighthouse keeper in America

 Sally Snowman is the last official keeper in the United States.

The lighthouse she oversees was opened in September, 1716, the first in the American colonies.

But in the face of technological advancement, devotees like Snowman are renewing an ancient maritime tradition.

(The New Yorker, approx 19 mins reading time)

Snowman concedes that the keeper’s life is “not for everyone.” But she was entranced from the age of ten, when she first stepped onto Little Brewster Island. On a picnic with her father, a marine engineer and a Coast Guard Auxiliarist, she gazed up at the lighthouse and proclaimed that she would get married there one day. (In 1994, she held a small wedding near the tower.) Later, she also discovered an appealing role model: Abbie Burgess, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper in Maine.
In 1856, when Abbie was sixteen, her father went to the mainland to pick up supplies, leaving her in charge. A nor’easter struck, and Abbie and her sisters moved their invalid mother into the tower, before waves swept their house away. After a weeks-long ordeal, Abbie wrote to a friend, “Though at times greatly exhausted with my labors, not once did the lights fail.

6. Searching for Shakespeare

william-shakespeare Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of The First Folio, the first published collection of William Shakespeare’s plays, the BBC delve into the search for a 420-year-old that was thought to be lost.

(BBC, approx 11 mins reading time)

How did this enigmatic work end up being sold by a bookshop? Could it really be possible that a play by the man widely considered to be the greatest ever dramatist and writer in the English language, had gone missing? This is a story of antique manuscripts, scattered hints, heated debates, accidental discoveries – and the lingering secrets of William Shakespeare.


The magazine career of the legendary E. Jean Carroll began all the way back in 1981 with this feature on the annual Miss Rodeo America contest. 

Equal parts rodeo and beauty pagean, Outside says it’s one of the best they’ve ever published.

(Outside, approx 15mins reading time)

“You girls are out on horses all day. In the gunk. In the muck. In the manure. That’s what causes blackheads.”

The queens were listening to this in the hotel conference room. The room had rows of seats ascending in tiers, and on the ceiling there were the sort of circles of tiny fluorescent lights that make people who sit under them look funny. The lights in the room could be turned high or low, but either way the queens looked weird. They looked especially weird in the light because they were wearing little pink ruffs around their necks and had little pink plastic makeup trays with mirrors in front of them and masks on their faces. 

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