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Substack Reads: Inside the mind of a collector, and a bookseller’s pilgrimage
Hello and welcome to Substack Reads, where we aim to serve up an eclectic menu of new writing from across Substack, from writers you never knew you needed to read.
This week, those writers are looking into why we obsess at all: from a pilgrimage to buy rare secondhand books, described in a nostalgic personal essay by writer Charlie Becker, to collecting midcentury-modern glassware, told by streetwear founder Bobby Hundreds in his new Substack, Monologue.
Thanks again for your recommendations shared in the comments and on Substack Notes, several of which are featured in today’s edition. Keep telling us which writers you’re obsessing over.
Whether it’s midcentury-modern glassware, rare sneakers, Pokémon cards, or NFTs, many of us are one step away from becoming a collector nerd, writes streetwear-brand founder Bobby Hundreds
It wasn’t until Cambria saw a friend selling Fire King glassware that she caught the bug. Search up “Kimberly mugs” and you’ll find charming drinking cups in a rainbow of gradient hues like bright orange, green, and blue. The mugs are stackable and wrapped in a geometric diamond pattern. Although Kimberlys originated in the mid-20th century, you can still find plenty of affordable vintage pieces on eBay and in thrift shops. That’s exactly what snagged Cambria. Kimberly mugs led her to other pieces under the Fire King brand, which then bubbled up on her Explore page and introduced her to influencers in the space like Mid Mod Marion. She started researching and buying more and more midcentury-modern (MCM) glass until the day she realized she’d crossed the line.
“I was like, ‘What am I gonna do with all this stuff?’ ” she laughed. “It’s not like I can return it…” So then Cambria started to sell it. You can guess what happened next. The camera loves Cambria, so once she took to IG Live and hosted her own shows, selling vintage treasures like speckled Lucite candles and fairy lamps, she had an accidental business on her hands. Still, she wasn’t just in it for the money. She was quick to express, “This is my fun place. This is my escape.”
Journalist and novelist Justin Myers shares a piercing story of grief and a cherry blossom
—in , recommended by Julia Raeside
‘It’s a cherry tree,’ they said, as we filed out to the gardens, feet crunching on the gravel path.
There was no blossom on the tree on the day they planted it. Its branches naked and fragile; the tree too young to know that one day it might be beautiful, and would be observed. Unaware of its role.
Rain sluiced down as we stood and waited. Crouched under our umbrellas, swathed in layers of misery—the cold, the rain, the loss—we listened to a man we didn’t know give a speech about someone we loved, before he unveiled a shiny plaque. Her name at the top, followed by beautiful, genuine words chosen by her colleagues. And still it rained. The ground became marshy, yet we hesitated to leave the tree by itself. Wouldn’t that be like turning your back on her, somehow? It hadn’t even been a year; there’d been no anniversary to ease us into this new phase where objects and ceremonies would become avatars for the person we missed. We didn’t know how to behave.
Inside, eventually, we talked about how the world was about to change, nibbled on snacks, clutching our champagne flutes with a palmar grasp. Then it was over, and we stepped out into the rain again. And all I could think about was the tree, in the gardens, on its own.
The problem with AI-generated photography isn’t the medium, it’s the message—one that rewards making misery look epic, says documentary photographer Dina Litovsky
The intensity of reaction to [Michael Christopher] Brown’s work startled me. Photographers rarely turn on one of their own with such viciousness. The last time that happened was in 2016, when the iconic, too-big-to-fail Steve McCurry was ostracized for passing off severely Photoshopped images as photojournalism. In some of the photos, McCurry cloned out people for no other reason than aesthetics. A fierce debate about ethics, exploitation, and false narratives ensued.
Documentary photography established many rules in place to prevent another McCurryism from happening. When transferring assignment photos to National Geographic, I have to send my RAW files, from which the final photos are processed (according to my drafts) by the Nat Geo team and published. World Press Photo and Picture of the Year contests require RAW files for all winners, checking for any discrepancies and disqualifying about 20% of entries each year. But no safeguard could have prepared the industry for the AI Trojan Horse arriving on its doorstep.
FOOD AND DRINK
Indian food expert Perzen Patel shares her wish to have a bowl of her grandmother’s curry that would never run out
In the morning, Mumma would send my grandfather to the market to buy a fresh coconut for her curry masala while she sat on the shared balcony of her apartment in Mumbai keeping a watch out for the fishmonger. Mumma would clap loudly when the fishmonger arrived and call her up to the apartment. She’d handpick the biggest prawns she could find, always sneaking in a few extra after the price was fixed, saying, “Arre, these extra ones are for my granddaughter. You know how much she loves eating your fish.”
Then Mumma would clean the prawns with salt and chickpea flour before marinating them in turmeric, red chilli powder, and salt. They’d sit on the counter covered, while her curry bubbled away on the stove, the aroma of the curry leaves filling the home. We’d arrive at Mumma’s house around 12.30, tired from rushing around the city at various extracurricular activities. Mumma would immediately push me directly to the basin to wash my hands and feet and “become free” from the outside clothes I had on. Meanwhile, she’d finish off the curry, slipping the marinated prawns into the pot and adding a generous squeeze of lemon juice.
As we all gathered around setting the table, Mumma would bring out her famous prawn curry, a glass bowl of kachubar—onion salad—balancing on the saucepan lid.
Every summer, Charlie Becker’s dad drove him and his sister in a rented cargo van from Houston to a parking lot in suburban Chicago, which became a holy site for booksellers for two weeks in June
—in , recommended by Vicky
As much as my Dad revered books, he was also a businessman. He was a master of rare-book arbitrage. Although there are garage sales and secondhand shops where we live in Houston, the likelihood of finding a 100-year-old book is slim. That’s because unlike his hometown, Chicago, Houston has a salty, hot climate that is hard on books. Air-conditioning only became mainstream around the 1950s, and Houston’s population didn’t explode until the 1980s, when my parents showed up with all the other transplants. When he moved here, my Dad opened his secondhand bookstore in a sleepy suburb of West Houston. He did well in sales but sometimes had trouble stocking valuable used books. That’s why we would drive across the country every year: to buy as many high-quality used books as possible.
Every June in the week before Brandeis, the Becker household had “hurricane energy,” that subtly manic atmosphere that you might encounter in a grocery store days before a natural disaster is predicted to hit the area. After school would let out for the summer, my Dad would start making preparations like finding a van to rent. He would also start the weeks-long discussion with my Mom about whether she would come to Chicago with us or not. This discussion was like a prolonged chess match performed in the style of a tango, highly stylized and alternately furtive and heated. My Dad wanted us all to go, but my Mom resisted. She would end up coming with us about half the time.
When Canadian illustrator and animator Livamoah found thrift-store buys with cutesy illustrations, she decided to redo them in her own style
Congratulations to the following writers celebrating their books’ forthcoming publication:
With an illustrated story,announces pre-orders on his new picture book:
Personal finance writeroffers details of his book deal with Penguin Random House: of is celebrating his publishing week with a discount to his newsletter:
Andrecommends new releases from beauty writers on Substack:
What’s happening in Notes announced its lineup for this year’s festival:
is sharing her recipe for cherry blossom syrup:
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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.