Things to read
“After she takes the veil, Maria alleges that, far from being a saintly community of celibates, the nuns were sexually abused by the city’s Catholic priests, a real-life tale seemingly ripped the pages of the Marquis de Sade. According to the book, the errant nuns became mothers, too – the babies they bore were baptised, smothered, and buried in a lime-layered pit in the basement of the nunnery.”
“One recent morning, Kevin Richardson hugged a lion and then turned away to check something on his phone. The lion, a 400-pound male with paws the size of dinner plates, leaned against Richardson’s shoulder and gazed magnificently into middle space. A lioness lolled a few feet away. She yawned and stretched her long tawny body, swatting lazily at Richardson’s thigh. Without taking his eyes from his phone screen, Richardson shrugged her off. The male lion, now having completed his moment of contemplation, began gnawing on Richardson’s head.”
“For the Republic of Rose Island, founded in 1968, it didn't turn out so well. Italian Giorgio Rosa issued stamps and declared himself president of a floating platform in the Adriatic, all in a bid to draw visitors. But almost as soon as it was built, the Italian navy took dynamite to his dreams for failure to pay taxes.”
—Bored of your country? Why not make up a new one, declare yourself dictator of it, sew a lot of gold braid on your hat and march off into the sunset? A surprising number of people already have done this. And they even have a Con where they talk about it. Email to Pocket.
“Typography has to be oriented to your actual readers, not idealised ones. Writers often get attached to idealised readers because those readers are easier to please. Don’t be lazy. Work hard to see your text as an actual reader will. You won’t get it perfectly right. But a rough approximation is better than no approximation at all.”
“The Earth and Moon are very likely destroyed by falling into the Sun, just before the Sun reaches the tip of its red giant phase and its maximum radius of 256 times the present day value. Before the final collision, the Moon possibly spirals below Earth's Roche limit, breaking into a ring of debris, most of which falls to the Earth's surface.”
Things to listen toIn Our Time is probably the radio programme I recommend to people most, and the one I have the least success with getting them to like. The format is simple, and endearingly BBCish – each week has a theme, and host Melvyn Bragg then grills three academic experts in the subject for 45 minutes of live discussion (the topics range from Wordsworth's The Prelude to the link between psychoanalysis and democracy and many things in between). The show is pretty good with their guest selection, seeming always to manage to have a good range of expertise, personalities, gender, nationality etc. The thing about it I really like, but which several recommendees have not enjoyed, is how combative Bragg gets with his guests when he feels they are being needlessly obscure or straying too far off topic. Since he's the proxy for me, the not-very-well-informed listener, I appreciate his efforts to keep the show on my level. But I will admit it doesn't always make for the most restful listen. Anyway, you should start with this recent episode on the Lancashire cotton famine, then move onto this one about Robin Hood, this one about Sappho, and this one about Mrs Dalloway. And then if you're feeling really brave, try this one on Fermat's Last Theorem - it's so good, it briefly had me thinking I understood/liked maths.
+Bonus thing: In Our Time are also currently redesigning their archive interface, so you can try out their various new ways of discovering old episodes and help them build a better website.
Things to watchBacon pancakes/New York.
The space hairdresser and the cowboy.