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Substack Reads: Becoming boring, the godfather of organic farming, and the original myth of autumn
Hello and welcome to Substack Reads! This week, we deliver another curiosity box of exciting writing and smart ideas—from new-to-Substack novelist Junot Díaz on his creative process, to Great British Bake Off finalist Ruby Bhogal offering a last bite of summer with her duo of tarte tatins, to astrologer and author Aliza Kelly’s journey into the mythology of the autumnal equinox with a spiritual forecast for Libra season. We hope you enjoy it!
In his newly launched Substack, fiction writer and editor Junot Díaz considers when to give up on a creative project and when to see it through
I could go on, but why bother? I toiled on the book for 2 years and wrote nearly 600 pages and finally, finding myself at a point where it was time for readers, I sent the pages out to a few. I tend to work a long time without letting anyone look at anything—I find that the best part of my writing only emerges when no one at all is looking—if I don’t spin a No-room about the work, the work almost never happens—but even for me this was a long time. A little foolishly, I had decided to try something new—to push through to the end of the draft before testing it for viability. It’s something that’s worked for some of my friends, and after so many failures around writing novels, I needed a new strategy.
There has never been a more solitary period in human history. But can you promote optionality in your youth—writes the author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, Louise Perry—only to switch back to community when you become onerous and dull?
—in , recommended by
I’d say that the consistent pattern we see across time and place is this: people long for privacy and autonomy during some periods of their lives. Specifically, able-bodied and childless young adults often crave distance from their extended families, and will often go to great lengths to secure it. During that stage of one’s life, communitarianism is incredibly annoying. As one of the strongest, most leisured, and most productive members of your extended family, people will frequently call upon you to share your bounty with them in various ways.
For young women, that usually means helping with childcare, eldercare, and domestic work, while young men are expected to share their wages with a seemingly endless parade of relatives, all sticking out expectant hands.
In her new Substack, Ruby Bhogal serves up a menu of sweet and savory tarte tatins to nourish body and soul as the last of summer evaporates
Don’t get me wrong, I can totally get on board with the al fresco dining, if I must. Drinks on a terrace? Sure, why not. But I can do both comfortably, without dripping in sweat, with both thighs intact, in Spring and in Autumn. It comes as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I tend to hibernate come the summer months. I’m just not born for it. I am an October baby through and through. I thrive in layers.
I come alive at the mere scent of cinnamon spice and all things cosy and nice. Nothing quite makes my heart beat faster, blood raging through my veins, making me feel indestructible, than hearing Michael Bublé play in December for the first time. What a time to be alive, people! As soon as that man starts defrosting over November from his yearlong hibernation, I can literally feel the jingle jangling in my bones.
Musician Kevin Morby’s love for the work of photographer Julie Blackmon moved from fan to friend to collaborator, with a new music score for her latest exhibition. He recalls meeting the artist for the first time, and what he learned from her family
It was no surprise to me when I learned that Julie lives and works out of her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, just a few miles east of my home in Kansas City. This, of course, made me love it all the more as I immediately recognized the backgrounds of her photographs as the very backgrounds of my day-to-day life: the grass green but not deep green like you may find in the south, the sky somewhat pale but wide-open, and the light from the winter sun tilted through the windows at an angle that feels like we’re just barely out of reach.
I had never seen someone capture our magical stretch of middle America in such perfect light. It was something I felt myself striving for in my own album covers, but here she was perfecting it. Her images felt staged but chaotic, innocent but ominous, youthful but tragic. I was obsessed.
HUMOR & TECHNOLOGY
Hang onto your hat: any pimply a-hole kid will be able to sit in his mom’s basement with AI and bring the world to its knees. And Gene’s contacts have the inside scoop
Limits? It pretty much has no limits now. For the most part, if you can imagine it, it is inevitable. Most of the AI we’re talking about these days is under the umbrella of Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI). These are machines that can do just one thing a human can do, though they can do it 24 hours a day, without resting, at lightning speed. A chatbot, a chess program, a self-driving car, these are all examples of ANI. A chatbot can’t drive you to the beach. Then there’s AGI, Artificial General Intelligence. That’s when a machine can do anything that a human can do. That’s where it gets scary.
The field of robotics is far behind AI, so it will be a while before a marriage of the two technologies freaks us out. But by a “while,” I mean a couple of years.
Author Boaz Frankel takes a trip to Louis Bromfield’s polycultural paradise in Ohio and investigates the history of his overlooked footprint on organic gardening
In the 1930s, America was in the midst of the Dust Bowl, where hundreds of millions of acres of topsoil—including the topsoil at Malabar Farm—disappeared due to a combination of drought and destructive agricultural practices. Bromfield had lived in France and traveled extensively through India, where he witnessed firsthand a range of new (to him) sustainable gardening techniques. He brought these ideas back to Malabar Farm and, along with his employees, he got to work. As Bromfield writes in From My Experience: The Pleasures and Miseries of Life on a Farm:
One does not repair a whole landscape, heal the wounds and restore the natural beauty and fertility overnight. It takes work and thought, imagination and, I think, above all else, time, patience and love.
British author, therapist, and educator Jane Claire Bradley journeys back to Friday night at Blockbuster Video, 1999, and selecting the film that became a cult classic and personal favorite
—in , recommended by
In case it somehow passed you by, Velvet Goldmine is an absolutely ridiculous fever dream of a film. They claim Oscar Wilde was an alien. Ewan McGregor’s character’s origin story involves a Michigan trailer park, some vague innuendo about being raised by wolves, and electroshock conversion therapy that just sends him bonkers every time he hears electric guitar. There’s a farewell-to-glam-rock spectacular called The Death of Glitter. Some of Oscar Wilde’s jewellery might have magical powers. Someone fakes a bloody, dramatic onstage assassination. Someone else searches for them, finds only more questions and then has a flashback about seeing a spaceship while getting fucked by fake Iggy Pop on a roof. Toni Collette—playing what’s essentially a fictionalised version of Angie Bowie—shags a lot of women and wears a truly incredible silky pink marabou-edged dressing gown. Eddie Izzard is in it. So is David Hoyle.
Way before I’d ever even seen it, this completely batshit piece of cinema had me in total thrall.
Power Plays goes inside the league that aims to level up women’s hockey
The inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) draft was unlike anything we’ve ever seen in professional women’s hockey. The Premier Hockey Federation/National Women’s Hockey League (2015-2023) never held a draft in person; the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (2007-2018) did hold an in-person draft, but it didn’t rise to this level of experience.
This draft was held at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre headquarters in downtown Toronto. All players who declared for the draft were invited to attend; a select group also received a stipend to attend.
Aliza Kelly digs deeper into the classical mythology underpinning the autumn season, and how to consider harmony and symmetry in the first week of the Libra
On Saturday, September 23, at 2:50AM ET, the Sun cruises into Libra, kicking off a brand-new zodiacal season and the Autumn Equinox. During the Autumn Equinox, we briefly experience a perfect balance of light and darkness, right before the Northern Hemisphere Sun begins its wintery descent into shadow. In magickal practices, equinoxes (like solstices) are portals—halfway spaces that link us to the other side. Similarly, this is when Persephone begins her annual journey to the Underworld.
Economistannounces the publication of on her Substack of the same name:
What’s happening in Notes is hosting a series of AMAs with writers over the next week, which started on Thursday with :
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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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