Substack Reads: Celebrating 40, out in outer space, and Mars at midnight
Hello readers! At Substack Reads, we have the joy of going deep on thousands of words from some of the best writers on the planet and offering them here with the idea of expanding minds. And where better to draw inspiration than space, the imaginary, and the in-between? We hope you enjoy it!
This week marks the 40th edition of Substack Reads. Thank you for reading along with us! We want to keep sending you emails you want to open, so we’re launching a reader survey: tell us what you love, what you want to see more or less of, and any other feedback:
Did we miss anything this week? Share your favorite posts, episodes, and reads from the week in a comment and we’ll be sure to check them out!
“It didn’t seem real”
The most dramatic photos from the train derailment in Ohio weren’t taken by photojournalists but on people’s phones. Photographer and editor Patrick Witty looks at the stories, and veracity, behind the images
The first time I saw this photo, I was suspicious. The ominous black mass hovering in the sky had to be from a catastrophe other than the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. I was wrong.
The photo, posted on Twitter at 6:07 p.m. on February 6th by @dj23white, is real.
Then the tweet was mysteriously deleted.
Behind the scenes of Calendly’s rapid growth
Lenny Rachitsky interviews Annie Pearl, chief product officer of Calendly, about its first 1,000 users and subsequent rapid growth, and how to send a Calendly link without feeling bad
No astronaut has been publicly out in outer space. But 22-year-old Brian Murphy, who identifies as gay and nonbinary, is hoping to be the first
— Mackenzie Calle in
“It is difficult to handle, because when you look at the 600 individuals who have been to space as cosmonauts, taikonauts, or astronauts, you see how well-rounded these individuals are and how supported these individuals are. And then I start to think, ‘Am I worthy of joining the ranks of those individuals? Will I be supported for who I am as an LGBTQ+ individual, as a gay nonbinary scientist? Will I be supported just as much as they will be?’ Physics and astronomy have a 40 percent dropout [rate] for LGBTQ+ individuals in the first few years of their early careers. What’s always driven me is the bigger picture. I might hit an exam that’s super-difficult and I might fail that exam. There might be a terrible class I’m having, there might be a societal roadblock that prohibits me from moving forward because of some outdated viewpoint on the LGBTQ+ community. And I’ll get sad for a moment. I might even get stressed. I might get angry. But when I think about the bigger picture and about how important the work is that we’re doing, how many lives can be potentially changed and lives even saved from that representation, that acceptance, it just keeps me going no matter what.”
The things we almost do
Memoirist Elissa Altman writes on yearning and risk
I clung to the two words like a drowning woman clings to a life raft: Beaverton Oregon.
I already pictured us there when my father said these words over dinner: The headhunter called and there’s a marketing director job they want me to go for in Beaverton, Oregon, for a sneaker company.
I knew very little about Oregon, except that runners came from Oregon, and I knew that there were a lot of hikers out there, and people who were generally healthier-looking than my friends in Queens, who, like me, lived in apartments and spent their out-of-doors time playing handball against the wall at our local junior high school, trying to outrun Son of Sam, and buying after-school quaaludes from our gym teacher.
The headhunter called and there’s a marketing director job they want me to go for in Beaverton, Oregon, for a sneaker company. When my father said these words, time stopped. I was already there, in the bungalow we’d live in, in this green, green place with massive trees, where physical activity was such a part of the culture that people made careers out of it. I imagined my father letting his hair grow a little bit, suddenly sprouting a bushy mustache like Steve Prefontaine’s, and carrying a threadbare JanSport backpack instead of a leather briefcase.
My mother, sitting across the table from my father, cut him off after the word “sneaker.”
If you go for the interview, she said, stirring her coffee, I’m leaving you.
The new romantics
What does it mean to “romanticize” in modern-day vernacular? And is oversharing on social media the most unromantic thing of all?
Since the dawn of social media, but particularly in the last few years, romanticizing one’s life has become more than just a trend—it’s become a lifestyle. Those who were active on TikTok during the pandemic are likely all too familiar with the popular audio track overlaid on video montages of people eating visually appetizing breakfasts, working out, and traveling. “You have to romanticize your life,” the narrator in the audio advises. “You have to start thinking of yourself as the main character. Because if you don’t, life will continue to pass you by. And all the little things that make it so beautiful will continue to go unnoticed.”
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, romanticization wasn’t just a presentational choice—it was a means of survival. Amid a global crisis and stripped of many of our social and professional obligations, many turned to romanticization as a way to cope. People took long walks throughout their neighborhoods. Baked loaves upon loaves of banana bread and sourdough. Learned how to crochet. In other words, people marveled at “the beautiful” in their lives—devising their own senses of order to take pleasure in.
Screenwriter Michael Marshall Smith shares the AI art he’s fallen in love within
The announcement email for this Substack featured an image from the extraordinary Midnite on Mars Insta, featuring AI-tinged images. There’s a few other accounts that are doing similar things, if you dig around the hashtags.
There’s a debate to be had on AI art, of course (and don’t get me started on AI text: I recently saw a service offering to have a computer write a eulogy for a loved one for you, for God’s sake), but I suspect the same will be true of it as was with digital art when it emerged in the 1990s. It’s something real artists can sometimes use to bring a pre-existing vision to fruition, not (yet) something of true value in and of itself.
Either way, I love these: it’s like someone took a photo of what was in Ray Bradbury’s head after he’d spent a night out taking drugs with David Bowie.
The big difference between builders and owners
Why is housing supply so confusing? And who has the upper hand in property development? Economist Cameron Murray straightens things out
Sometimes, builders enter into contracts with property developers of large subdivisions. These contracts give builders the right to facilitate sales of lots owned by the developer as part of a package, whereby the customer enters a land purchase contract with the developer and a building contract with the builder.
Notice that the builder, even in this case, cannot build a home without a property owner making that decision. Builders rely on the decisions of the property owners.
New dwelling supply is therefore driven by the financial incentives of property owners, who want to maximise the total return on their property assets over time, not builders, who want to maximise housing construction turnover but can only do so subject to the decisions of property owners.
The incentives of builders and property owners are different. Sometimes the same company does both activities, but this doesn’t change the underlying incentives.
The matter of my maiden name
Aubrey Hirsch shares a comic strip on a question that is never uncomplicated
Dear bird in the Detroit Metro Airport
A poem from the writer Sherman Alexie
Delayed for many hours, I decided to follow a bird
from airport gate to gate as it searched
for an escape. It didn’t rush. It sometimes
perched for ten or fifteen minutes
on the high architectural beams and angles.
Was it afraid? Despondent? I don’t know.
I won’t guess at bird-emotions. But I felt
like an airport monk silently
practicing a new feathered ceremony.
Then I wondered if somebody was following me
as I followed the bird. But, no, I was the only
adherent of that temporary theology.
Dear Bird, my avian abbot, it’s been a decade
but I still think of you in your airport solitude.
You were small, radiant,
and probably doomed.
Congratulations to the following writer celebrating publication:’s new cookbook, , is now available to preorder:
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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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I love these weekend recommendations! Also, I now subscribe to way too many (but also not enough) newsletters. Substack, can you help me organize my inbox? (I'm only partially joking.)
A great selection of links, thank you. That's my weekend reading sorted out!