Substack Reads: Six numbers beyond 8 billion, burning sugar, and taking the revenge holiday
Hello and welcome to another edition of Substack Reads!
This week,looks at the other numbers we need to know beyond 8 billion, Professor dissects how we got here, and presents five considerations for watchers of The Crown. Whatever your mood or fancy, we serve a great menu of writers and their work in today’s digest.
Thanks to those who participated in last week’s thread over in our Chat space. As ever, please share your recommended reads and listens in the comments section below.
As viewers get into the latest season of the Netflix drama The Crown, the best-selling author of HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style, Elizabeth Holmes, shares five things worth considering from the series in her new Substack
—in So Many Thoughts
The condemnation of the series ahead of the fifth season’s release was really something, wasn’t it? In a letter to The Times, Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench voiced her concern that “overseas” viewers may take it as “wholly true” and called the fifth season “both cruelly unjust to the individuals and damaging to the institution they represent.” Royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith advocated for a “big warning right at the beginning in black and white stating that it is a fictionalized drama. Doing anything other than that is totally disingenuous.”
Let’s be very clear here: The Crown is not real. I think what people are reacting to is that it can feel real because it goes to such great lengths to make it look real. I think it’s widely understood that the imagined dialogue in private moments is made up; the danger, by my estimation, has always been more about the aftertaste of a pivotal scene or charged episode. Viewers can leave with a lingering feeling about what they saw onscreen and, in some cases, project that onto the real-life people being portrayed. In that sense, The Crown is profound, as viewers can—subconsciously, even—form an opinion on one person or the whole pageant.
However, it is imperative that we all remember that the Windsors are a public family in a position of immense privilege and power, both real and perceived. As Dominic West, who takes over the role of Prince Charles, told me in my interview with him for Town & Country, that makes them legitimate subjects for “inquiry and scrutiny.” (Totally unrelated, but with Dominic’s accent he drew out the “quire” in “inquiry” and I found that delightful.) I deeply appreciated that Dominic is both a big fan of Charles and he is willing to be critical of the monarchy.
With the global population reaching 8 billion this week, the author of the book 8 Billion and Counting: How Sex, Death, and Migration Shape Our World looks at how we reached this point, where we’re going, and six other numbers we should know about
—in A World of 8 Billion Newsletter
Another global divide is in age. Forty-two percent of the population in lower-income countries is under age 15. Globally, there are more people under age 15 than over age 65, but not in higher-income countries, where older people outnumber youth. Neither situation is inherently bad, but the disparity does mean lower- and higher-income countries face dissimilar challenges and opportunities.
As for challenges, in more youthful countries, the focus is often on how to feed, educate and employ a fast-growing population with millions aging into the workforce annually. In countries with older populations, discussions center on how to maintain economic vitality as millions exit the workforce annually into retirement. But there are opportunities as well: Youthful countries have the potential to reap a demographic dividend—a boost in economic growth from higher proportions of people of working age—if the right government policies are in place, such as investments in human capital. Countries with older age structures are at the leading edge of innovations in automation and artificial intelligence, which help offset shrinking workforces.
Documentary and editorial photographer Dina Litovsky reveals the surprising significance of a familiar rite of passage: the bachelorette party
—in In the Flash
In 2014, the now-defunct New York Times Lens photo blog published “Bachelorette,” a series I had just finished. The feature, almost overnight, put me on the map in the photography world. It also precipitated my first encounter with internet trolls and exposed the latent, low-key misogyny of our society. Comments and emails condemned my “glorification” of such a vile ritual. “Why would anyone marry these women after such behavior?” was the most common reaction echoed by men and women alike. Instantly I knew I had done something right.
As the U.S. turns toward Thanksgiving feasts, molecular biologist and cook Nik Sharma dissects the science of a pumpkin flan
—in The Flavor Files
A point I should make here is that acids do not promote caramelization (or, for that matter, the Maillard reaction). Alkalis, like baking soda, will promote caramelization (and the Maillard reaction), but if you’re wondering why I didn’t add baking soda to speed things up: One, it’s better and safer to make caramel slowly; it takes a few minutes. Two, the cream of tartar will react with the baking soda; they’ll neutralize each other and are of no use.
All sugars caramelize at different temperatures; for the sugar sucrose used here, you’ll notice a faint toasty aroma at about 295°F/146°C, and by the time the sugar reaches 330°F/166°C, it will turn a deep, dark amber color. The longer it heats, the deeper the flavor and the darker the color.
Some folks, like my mom, burn the sugar directly in the baking pan over the stove or in the oven. I prefer making the caramel in a saucepan and then pouring it into the baking dish; it gives me more control and freedom over my choice of pan.
When Katherine Ormerod’s partner started a new business, she started feeling the domestic weight—until she ditched the naggy texts and headed to Tripadvisor
—in Every Shade of Grey
Pre-sprogs, it was always me who travelled for work. Often for the launch of a candle. Or a small luggage collection, say. If I’m wildly honest, I’d take any trip. But now my partner is often overseas, flying to faraway lands for business with a side of pleasure, for days on end, and I haven’t taken the adjustment to solo parenting particularly well. This summer, when he had to drop everything on our extended family holiday and head to Sydney for 10 days, my initial response was obviously to scream into my pillow. I’d only just recovered from two back-to-back New York trips, during one of which both the kids had raging colds. But after taking a little breath and stock of everything that had come before, I decided that it was a moment to try a new approach.
Change is happening faster than ever before. Can we keep up? University College London professor and author Brian Klass looks at how we got here and what risks emerge
—in The Garden of Forking Paths
In modernity, our lives unfold quicker. Stasis is shorter. The accelerated pace of change has embedded catastrophic risk into our precarious world, as most systems are designed for gradualism, evolution by creeps, not evolution by jerks. The world can change in a second, but it can also break in a second.
In his book Slowness, the Czech novelist Milan Kundera writes that “Speed is the form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed on man.” Speed, in Kundera’s estimation, is a blessing and a curse, an ecstasy that is both liberating and dangerous.
Sorayya Khan considers the creative practice that helps her make sense of impermanence
—in Oldster Magazine, recommended by in this week’s The Active Voice podcast
I was 10 that sunny morning at the Islamabad Club. My tall mother bent over in the locker room to slip off her one-piece bathing suit, and her belly hung ever so slightly away from her slim frame. She was 38, and I resolved that my stomach would always be flat.
I was 17 when I experienced my first real death, and it belonged to a whole country. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged early one April morning. A noose was tied around his neck and the hangman pulled a lever, and for years afterwards I would picture the scene in Rawalpindi District Jail.
At 27, my 63-year-old father told me that he had ten years left to live. I hadn’t imagined that my father’s life would run out, believing he’d always be standing there in winter, in a gold cashmere sweater, in our home on Street 19, Islamabad, when I needed him. He said it gently, as if he was sorry to know something the rest of us did not. I didn’t believe I was a writer yet, but I made a note of it.
The discipline of posting helps photographer Andrew Eberlin see the world differently. Today, an exploration around London’s most iconic modern brutalist buildings, the Barbican
—in A Photo and a Few Words A Day
The Barbican fascinates me. Built on a site razed by the Blitz as a city within a city. An example of the optimism and ambition of post-war architecture—an icon of brutalism.
At its opening in 1982, the Queen described it as “one of the wonders of the modern world.”
The sights and sounds of the Barbican show how concrete living could work.
Dominated by the splendour of the towers, the neighbourhood has adopted the church of St Giles (the one surviving building from the Blitz) and hosts a calming lake in the centre (which provides a roof to the Central Line).
The Barbican is a car-free, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood.
The lack of traffic means you can listen to students practicing at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, hear excited squeals at playtime from the London School for Girls and the bounce of a ball in one of the sports grounds.
I like a day like this. A day dedicated to photography in a place that inspires me. It gives me time to linger, absorb the place, and notice the details.
Even in the rain.
Author of Wintering Katherine May selects your next cosy book stack to take you through the colder months
—in Katherine May's Stray Attention, recommended by in Substack Reads Chat
We have just made the transition into the dark half of the year, following Samhain, or All Hallows, or the halfway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. We’re now in the territory I mapped in Wintering: a particular psychic location in which we’re concerned with a dearth of light and warmth, and whose business is scarcity and dying, as well as the gemination of the next life.
So, in that spirit, I thought I might recommend five newish books to read in readiness for the coming winter. All of them open up gentle, reflective, complex spaces in which to imagine your winter self.
Overheard on Chat of Well Well Well with Rosamund Dean asks her community what they think of the trend of “going damp” (drinking in moderation), while asks readers of Now We're Talking with Doree Shafrir what parenting issues are on their mind right now. in bookbear express has started a reading club, and of Link in Bio started a thread of job listings this week for those who have been laid off in tech and social media.
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the braid by: The writer “explores the braided experience of mother, lover, and self in personal essays and conversations on sex, death, love, loss, parenthood, paradigms, identity, culture, and coming of age.”
- : Poet, author, and performer Andrea Gibson writes about “a poet’s quest to uncover what shifts when we shift our attention.”
- : A contributing editor at the New York Times, the author of Feminist Fight Club and This Is 18, and a journalism educator at NYU, Jessica Bennett writes about women, culture, politics and whatever else sends her down a rabbit hole.
- : Best-selling author, artist, and speaker Mari Andrew brings her “joyfully philosophical illustrations and essays that meander between deep and light, bitter and sweet” to Substack.
Congratulations to the following writer celebrating offline publication this week:shares the news of her new book Drama Free:
Every family has a story. For some of us, our family of origin is a solid foundation that feeds our confidence and helps us navigate life’s challenges. For others, it’s a source of pain, hurt, and conflict that can feel like a lifelong burden. In Drama Free: A Guide to Managing Unhealthy Family Relationships (TarcherPerigee/Penguin Random House; on sale February 28, 2023), I offer clear advice for identifying dysfunctional family patterns and choosing the best path to breaking the cycle and move forward.
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 by Hannah Ray.
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