I have to say, I am frankly astonished at how many of you there are (and extremely pleased, of course). Thank you very much for signing up – I will endeavour to be interesting.
Things to read
“Many of Wikipedia’s articles on the British aristocracy were largely written by a user known as Lord Emsworth. They were so insightful about the intricacies of the peerage system that some were featured as the ‘Article of the Day’, and Lord Emsworth rose to become a Wikipedia administrator. It turned out that Lord Emsworth, a name taken from P G Wodehouse’s novels, was actually a 16-year-old schoolboy in South Brunswick, New Jersey. On Wikipedia, nobody knows you’re a commoner.”
—An extract from Walter Isaacson’s new book, which lays out the origin story of Wikipedia. It’s not just a website, or a freedom-of-information project, he argues: it’s “a dazzling example of human-machine symbiosis” that has the potential to completely change the way we think, if it hasn’t done so already.
“We shouldn’t feel ashamed of our traumas, nor should we hide the consequent grief. It’s not that I necessarily feel proud of having a miscarriage, but I do feel compelled to question why it seems as if we rarely talk about pregnancy loss, though the statistics are staggering. Is it resounding cultural shame? Speckles of self-blame? Steadfast stigma? The notion that talking about ‘unpleasant’ things is a no-no? It’s a hard topic. But if every woman who has lost a pregnancy to miscarriage or stillbirth told her story, we might at least feel less alone.”
—A terrifying, sickening, moving piece on what it’s actually like to have a miscarriage. I’m fairly sure everyone has either had one or knows someone who has, yet you’d never know from how little it gets discussed.
“The Marbles were not a symbol of ‘Greek nationhood’ when Elgin took them. Whether we think what he did was right or wrong, he was not doing the equivalent of walking into the Tower of London and pinching the Crown Jewels. The Marbles became a national symbol in a sense in their loss, and with some help from the later, classically focussed, monarchy of Greece.”
—Mary Beard on what we get wrong about Lord Elgin and his marbles.
“I started small, with the discount spell book and a bottle of ylang-ylang oil my mom’s friend gave me to use as perfume. I’d light candles by my bed at night, staring into the base of the flame, repeating my wishes in my head. I’d fall into a meditative sleep before, presumably, my mom came in and blew out the candle, lest I burn our apartment building down. I convinced my grandparents to let me plant a herb garden in their backyard so I could teach myself to, I don’t know, brew tinctures? I never got a Ouija board though – those were for posers.”
—Jaya Saxena writes about her pre-teenage obsession with witchcraft, and how although she no longer practises, the need for spells has never really gone away.
“This was the father of Oscar Wilde. These were the causes and scandals that informed his childhood. What would be the lessons? That a man can be promiscuous and a sexual predator, and still become a knight of the realm. That, even found guilty of drugging and raping a colleague's daughter, the penalty will be a farthing. That children are not sexually abused, but that their genital infections are their own fault and the true victims are the innocent folks scapegoated by them and by their parents.”
—On the chequered history of Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar, a distinguished Irish surgeon whose attitude to his own sexual scandals, the author argues, informs the way his son handled his own trial for gross indecency in 1895.
Things to listen to
If you are a habitual podcast-listener, you will have already heard about Serial, the new spin-off from This American Life. Feel free to skip down to the gif if so. But if you aren't, hang around for a second while I tell you why you have to start listening to it immediately. We've had the age of long-form writing, and of long-form TV – now it seems we’ve arrived at the age of long-form radio. Put simply, this first season of Serial is one very complicated piece of investigative reporting into a 1999 murder in Maryland that put a teenager in prison for life on apparently very little solid evidence of guilt. It’s being told over many episodes (five have been released so far), and it’s completely gripping. It helps, of course, that it’s a crime story, which comes with a healthy dose of “but did he really do it?” to keep you engaged. After last Thursday’s episode, I and two colleagues spent 20 minutes comparing theories about alibis and motives in a far more intense discussion than I’ve had about TV for ages. Still not convinced? The New Yorker went behind the scenes to see the women making it at work.
Things to watch
Compulsory medieval thingamabob
The guest gif
This week’s gif comes courtesy of Bea, who adds: “this is me at my first school dance”.
THE END. See you next time*!
*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, please do reply and send me links.