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Substack Reads: The influencer illusion, animatronic groundhogs, and settling the score
Hello readers! Welcome to another edition of Substack Reads—your weekly digest of great writing, thinking, and ideas from across Substack.
Today, the power of illusion: from pop-culture writer Cintra Wilson’s opinion piece on influencerdom, to Will Dowd’s exploration into animatronic groundhogs and robo-powered moons, and, finally, critic Molly White’s eagle eye on the 30-year-old “crypto kid” who duped everyone.
It’s our hope that there’s something for everyone here, but perhaps we overlooked a superb read or listen this week. Tell us what we’ve been missing in the comment thread below.
A pop-culture critic’s op-ed on the grotesquerie of influencers
—in , recommended by
Influencers sell themselves, but I personally don’t think they know what “selves” they’re selling. I don’t believe these people have had enough off-camera time to know who they really are, especially when they’re not familiar enough with themselves to know the difference between public and private.
One didn’t have to dance like a trained monkey on TikTok to get ahead in the real world before.
As a Gen Xer, I cannot be tortured enough to care about these bland, apolitical, self-commercialized, professional personalities, and, as far as I can tell, neither can most of my peers. When my crowd was coming of age, we called this sort of thing “selling out.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reflects on the experience of his 39-year NBA scoring record being broken by LeBron James
It’s also about not making scoring your obsession. Otherwise, you’re Gollum and the record is your Precious. The real goal is to win games so that you win championships because you want to please the fans who pay your salary and cheer you on game after game. Fans would rather see you win a championship than set a scoring record.
It’s also about making sure your team gets their moments to shine and thrive and pursue their own greatness. A record is nothing if you used other players’ careers as stepping stones just for self-aggrandizement. For me, I strove to play at the highest level I could in order to be a good teammate. The points—and the record—were simply a by-product of that philosophy.
I think LeBron has the same philosophy.
Japan’s Ghibli Museum once sold a “sketch set” with an unbeatable hook: Miyazaki’s art tools and methods
If you’ve seen Miyazaki’s watercolor works, like the one above, you already know how amazing they are. He has the power to turn scribbly pencil lines and splotches of color into vibrant sketches that feel actively, restlessly alive. He’s been drawing this way since at least the ’70s—he’d already done it for years by the time of Future Boy Conan (1978).
So when Miyazaki took a moment to describe his methods, people were naturally excited.
Back in the 2000s, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka began selling a “sketch set” with an unbeatable hook: it gave you Miyazaki’s art tools. Plus, it came with a little foldout in which Miyazaki explained how to use watercolors, and how he uses them.
If you can find an unopened one, the original kit contains a pencil, a brush, a pencil sharpener, a sketchbook, and a palette—alongside 24 Holbein watercolor paints selected by Miyazaki. Children and people brand-new to watercolors were the target audience. The guide by Miyazaki is funny, friendly, and self-deprecating, with a number of tips aimed at beginners.
Sam Bankman-Fried is benefiting from his childlike media persona, says Molly White
Sam Bankman-Fried was apparently adult enough to start his own company, convince sophisticated venture firms like Sequoia Capital to give him hundreds of millions of dollars, and bring in billions of dollars in trading activity. He dated, picked out meals for himself, and even testified in front of Congress to advise on policy. He presumably voted and paid rent and put his own pants on just like the rest of us grown-ups.
That’s not to say he wasn’t perceived as youthful, or even childish, before the collapse. He cultivated the image. He played video games constantly, and napped on beanbags in the office wearing his uniform of rumpled FTX T-shirts, shorts, and tube socks. It was a useful persona to portray, even before he was being accused of crimes: with the young white nerdy boy genius forming the archetype of successful tech entrepreneur ever since Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, investors are drawn to it.
The press and crypto community certainly bought it, referring to him often in similar terms as they are now: boy genius, wunderkind, whiz kid. It was odd, to be sure, given that mid-20s founders are not exactly uncommon in the tech industry, but it was also not unique. Vitalik Buterin is also almost 30 and receives similar treatment (though it is more accurate with Buterin than with Bankman-Fried that he got his start unusually young).
But now, more than ever, SBF is benefiting from his childish image. The New York Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin commented in a highly publicized interview with SBF after the FTX collapse that “when you read the stories, it sounds like a bunch of kids who were on Adderall having a sleepover party.” Think pieces have asked if it all could have just been an honest mistake. Maybe this kid just got in over his head? Maybe this naive boy meant well and was just trying to do the right thing, and running a multi-billion-dollar company was just more than he could handle?
On the eve of the Snow moon, eyes were fixed on another pale orb floating over the country. But there’s one thing machines will never have over us
Of course, telling the difference between the real Moon and an illusory moon is about to become more difficult.
An aerospace company in Chengdu, China, has imminent plans to launch an artificial moon into orbit.
Eight times brighter than the original, this imitation moon will reflect a pleasant “dusk-like glow” over Chengdu, thereby eliminating the need for streetlights and saving the city $173 million a year.
While I abhor the idea of replacing the Moon, I too would go to great lengths to save money on my electric bills.
Every day, AI chatbots are sharpening their quills. First, they’ll come for the technical writers… then the copywriters… then the bloggers…
On its 50th anniversary, Jolene Handy goes into Salvador Dalí’s Surrealist cookbook “Les Dîners de Gala”
On the very first page of Les Diners, we are told:
We would like to state clearly that, beginning with the very first recipes, LE DINERS DE GALA, with its precepts and its illustrations, is uniquely devoted to the pleasures of Taste. Don’t look for dietetic formulas here.
So there’s no confusion, this is a real cookbook—you could make these recipes and eat these dishes. But they are complicated and fascinating in their over-the-topness and are a part of the larger universe of this book.
Getting friends in your 20s to essentially form a commune in one of the world’s biggest cities isn’t easy, says Priya Rose, but here’s how she did it
— Priya in
People tell me that their friends talk about living near each other too. And yet almost no one I’ve talked to has successfully clustered their friend group. So today I’m going to show you how to.
One note: clustering your friends is a HARD problem. Otherwise, you would have done it already! Thus, the advice I’ll give requires hard work. There are no shortcuts here—but the end result is worth it.
Beyond breaking down on the freeway, the 3% of people without cellphones are finding society is blocking them out more than ever. Yet they can memorize directions, read a ton, and are possibly the most chill dudes on the planet
I’m hardly ever late. But my theory is that the cellphone is iatrogenic for that purpose.
In my day, people mostly showed up on time. If somebody was really late, it was because they had a car accident or something. Now when we get together, it’s routine that somebody is very late. I think a contributing cause is, “Oh, I’ll just text you if I’m running late.” Because you can communicate that, you aren’t as particular about making sure you’re on time.
What effects have you seen of cellphone use on your friends and family, and on society?
In society these days, the zombification of people for sure. People are just always on it. When I’m riding the subway, walking around on campus—you see that sort of disconnect, of people being in their own bubble.
Congratulations to the following writers celebrating publication:shares details of his second book, The World Behind the World, which will be published by Simon & Schuster on July 25: announces her new book, The Success Myth, to be published in May by Transworld: announces their new book deal with Anchor: shares with subscribers turning in the draft of his new book Time, Strength, Cash, Patience, published by Celadon:
Overheard in the comments
“The ‘Trouble’ essay (both the 1994 and ‘Somebody’ versions) has been a kind of gold standard for me in terms of communicating the nuances of one’s experience without dictating how anyone else should feel about theirs. I’ve even thought, if I can communicate myself as clearly as this essay does, there can be no possible misunderstandings! So it’s surprising to learn of these reactions. (Especially since the essay is ABOUT this!)”
—Continue reading’s comment on ’s post “Writing About Rape” here.
“There’s one that my mum taught me and that I have hardly ever managed, so this is purely aspirational but I love it: if someone’s left a non-disposable food container at your place, give it back with new food in it.”
—Amal El-Mohtar responding to’s thread on that The Cut post on etiquette.
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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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