No Complaints #97: Sparrows, Sculpture and Smile

Why, hello.

Things to read

“The best times are when it comes unexpectedly, which is remarkable when I remember that you’re an actor, and so almost every time I see you smile it’s not truly unexpected, at least not from your side, you know what I’m saying? You know you’re about to smile that way because you’ve read the script, so you know a smile is called for there, and yet still: It always feels like you had no idea it was coming. Being able to summon genuine surprise  –  it’s just  – I just  –  when you really think about it  –  if there was a way –  it’s a great smile, is what I’m saying.”

How Mahershala Ali makes us feel. And since this piece was written he won an Academy Award. Everything is not awful. Email to Pocket.


“Female characters are often pictured as writing their own lives, in real time. Some of cinema’s most recognisable young female characters are diarists: Bridget Jones, Heathers’ Veronica, Amy in Gone Girl. It’s a trope of young adult film and TV: from the The Princess Diaries to My Mad Fat Diary to As Told by Ginger. But these retrospective “I should write about this!” reveals, as in the final episodes of Roseanne, function differently.”

My podcast pal Anna has written a great piece here about the portrayals of women writers on TV today, in the likes of Gilmore Girls and Girls. (Also, listen to Anna in action on the whole Oscars farrago.) Email to Pocket.


“Don’t pretend your eyes don’t hover, at least for a moment, over the delicately sculpted penises on classical nude statues. While it may not sound like the most erudite subject, art historians haven’t completely ignored ancient Greek genitalia either. After all, sculptors put as much work into penises as the rest of their artwork, and it turns out there’s a well-developed ideology behind those rather small penises.”

Don’t pretend that you haven’t always wanted to know this. Email to Pocket.


“‘This bird acts like it has four sexes,’ says Christopher Balakrishnan, an evolutionary biologist at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, who worked with Tuttle and Gonser. ‘One individual can only mate with one-quarter of the population. There are very few sexual systems with more than two sexes.’”

Birds, man. Birds are amazing. Email to Pocket.


“Like most of my fellow American Muslims, I spent much of 2016 watching with consternation as Donald Trump vilified our community. Despite this – or because of it – I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America's Muslim citizens. I lasted eight days.”

You can’t do better than the headline for this piece: “I Was a Muslim in Trump’s White House”. Email to Pocket.

+ I came across this piece via The Lunch Read, a Wednesday afternoon links email I’ve been really enjoying. You can sign up here.

Things to listen to

I’ve started listening to Containers this week, a podcast by Fusion’s Alexis Madrigal about the shipping industry. So far, I’ve learned some new things about logistics, the Bay Area and the Vietnam War, but the show itself is also a new departure in podcast advertising, which I also find interesting. It’s sponsored by a company called FlexPort, which is a freight startup, and obviously works in the very industry that the podcast it has sponsored is covering. This Wired piece is very good on the possible ethical issues this raises.


Things to watch

Things to attend

A few upcoming IRL things I’m doing:

14 March, London – Another SRSLY Harry Potter Quiz! It is now sold out, but there is a waiting list for tickets if you want to come.

22 April, Cambridge – A talk at the Cambridge Literary Festival with Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud to talk about fiction in troubled times and the “novel cure”. Tickets here.

2 May, London – A panel with Olly Mann of Answer Me This! and Jason Phipps of the Guardian talking about “how to launch and grow a successful podcast”. More details and tickets here

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Togas are so last season.


The guest gif

Me too, tiny wolf.

If you have a suggestion for something I should look at, hit reply to this email or talk to me on Twitter.

If you like the newsletter or its website and want me to keep doing it, maybe think about giving me some money.

THE END. See you next time!