Substack Reads: The father of the computer age; lost loves remembered; plus, the trial everyone is talking about
Welcome to another edition of Substack Reads: your weekly digest of some of the best writing and podcasts from across the platform.
This week, writer Will Dowd looks back at the U.K.’s complicated relationship with Alan Turing, Helena Fitzgerald finds herself in a heat wave comparing America to an air-conditioning unit, and writer Sophie Lucido Johnson celebrates the wonders of watermelons.
As always, we hope you enjoy this week’s selected reads!
Did we miss something? Feel free to add your own favorite writers, posts, podcasts, and threads in the comments section below.
The most interesting story in books right now isn’t written by an author. It’s the U.S. Department of Justice’s trial blocking Penguin Random House from one of the biggest mergers in history
The entire publishing market is immeasurable. There are so many publishers and so many different kinds of books sold in so many different ways that they can’t be counted. It came out during the proceedings that no one at the Big Five has a clue how much money Amazon makes from publishing regular books, running a self-publishing empire, and its huge shares of the original e-book and audiobook markets. Publishing income is so immaterial to Amazon that it is never itemized in its financial reports, but it may derive as much revenue from books as any of the Big Five.
In this big, messy publishing world, a combined PRH+S&S might represent only 10 or 15 percent of the total market, making it difficult for the DOJ to argue that the merger must be stopped before one huge, hairy firm dominates the book world. There is no bright line that proves dominance in a market, but you usually need to own about 40 percent to get the conversation started. [...]
In his opening remarks, Penguin Random House’s lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, ridiculed the government’s market for anticipated top sellers as “artificial,” an arbitrary invention. “We’re talking about a tiny increment of the overall market,” he said. “No one in the publishing industry has heard of this before. It does not exist.”
It can if you’re American, it’s 90 degrees outside, and you have air-conditioning
It’s no surprise and no secret that mercy can be purchased with money, which is maybe why air-conditioning, more than apple pie or state fairs or big hats or neoliberalism or hot dogs or the Fourth of July, is the most American thing there is. Often when there’s a particularly bad shooting in the news, that poem about “America Is a Gun” goes around. If the poem is facile, it certainly isn’t wrong; of course America is a gun, if places are objects, if we have to pick one. But if places are objects, America might also be an air conditioner. This technology is more prevalent in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. This country is both obsessed with and predicated on the things money allows us to escape, and the bunkers that it builds, all of which are air-conditioned. At the end of the world, when the rich retreat underground or into the sky or onto their yachts and the rest of us burn, their air-conditioning will be perfect, the uninterrupted cool that slows down every panicking heart, smoothing the room into calm silence.
Will Dowd remembers Alan Turing—war veteran, gay icon, and the unsung hero of the modern world
No machine could have predicted, just by a glance at an eerie gibbous moon, that a beloved friend was about to die.
And no machine could have felt the depth of grief and loneliness that Turing felt at the loss of his only friend.
The line drawn between human and machine forever fascinated Turing.
Turing was convinced that he and Christopher Morcom would meet again—in some form.
In preparation, he quickly converted his anguish into ambition.
He would continue the scientific work he had started with his friend so that when they reunited, Christopher would be proud of him.
When writer Etgar Keret heard Salman Rushdie had been stabbed during a literary event, it blew up his last refuge. His hopes for Rushdie are for a full recovery, and to receive the next issue of his newsletter. As for the world and its sanity? Etgar is less optimistic
On Friday night, when I heard that Rushdie had been stabbed, my sorrow was twofold: I felt saddened by the horrific injury of an exceptionally talented man whose mind and imagination I knew intimately through his writing; and saddened by the world we live in—a world in which the diplomatic immunity granted to every creative-ambassador of the kingdom of imagination, which I had always viewed as a solid fact, was crumbling.
Do we ever forget the loves we had—and lost? On the eve of the 30-year anniversary of her husband’s death, journalist and author Lindsay Nicholson explains
Yesterday I placed white roses on John’s grave, and this morning at the time of his death I lit a candle for him at home. This Sunday, I will go to St. Bride’s Fleet Street, the journalists’ church, where the page in the book of commemoration will be open at his name. Thirty years is a long time to mourn. It is also, as all those who grieve know, no time at all.
I was widowed absurdly young at just-turned 36. I have now reached an age where my cohort are starting to face their own mortality, some—sadly—having already passed beyond the veil. The last request that John had as he was dying is one that I know is shared by so many of us when we realise our time here on earth is short. And it is this:
“Don’t forget me.”
I am writing this now, from the distance of 30 years, to reassure anyone who needs to know it that those we love are never, ever—ever—forgotten.
One hundred years of social history could be tracked by the telephone’s changing marketing slogans. Philatelist Peter Stampden looks back
The first telegraph line in Australia had been laid between the city of Melbourne and neighbouring Williamstown in 1854, and this was commemorated in 1954 with the slogan cancel 100 YEARS OF TELEGRAPH SERVICE 1854 - 1954.
The slogan was used at GPOs in all states, and post offices at Canberra, Newcastle, and Launceston. R.C. Occleshaw, author of the two-volume Australian slogan cancellations 1917-1988, notes that the slogan was introduced in April and withdrawn by the end of September 1954, although he does record an early usage from Hobart, dated March 11th.
Beyond the height of summer, Sophie Lucido Johnson shares why saying yes to watermelons is something you’ll never regret
I can’t be sure what exactly does it for you the way watermelon does it for me, but if you can bring yourself to know what it is, it’s a good thing to have in your personal glossary. That way, when it comes up, you can say, “Oh, here it is. Just be here now.” Be inside every breath. What do you smell? Hear? Taste? See? Move through this moment with the knowledge that it is precious and that it deserves your full attention.
Substack Reads is a weekly roundup of writing, ideas, art, and audio from the world of Substack. Posts are recommended by staff and readers, and curated and edited from Substack’s U.K. outpost with writer Hannah Ray and editor Farrah Storr.
Got a Substack post to recommend? Tell us about it in the comments.